A veteran with new ideas

Xiong Guobao... still fighting fit.-

The ‘Backhand King' of yesteryear Xiong Guobao is now a respected coach. The winner of 13 international titles has now designed a new racquet with the accent on the grip. A. Joseph Antony caught up with Guobao in Singapore.

Jaws dropped when the ‘Backhand King' held court. Xiong Guobao may have earned that epithet in the last millennium but at the Sengkang Sports and Recreation Centre, Singapore recently, he ruthlessly sent rivals on a feather hunt like a latter-day tyrant, reducing them to weak-kneed subjects. Coming from a stalwart who called the shots over two decades ago, none could withstand his backhand barrage, as fresh opponents stepped in each time, vainly hoping to shake his sway.

With 13 international titles under his belt, including three Thomas Cup singles crowns, Guobao wears his success lightly, breaking into a smile easily as he chatters away in his native Mandarin. If his style is dubbed defensive, he parries that one quickly. “Given that most leading players are equal on almost all fronts, the backhand can become a potent offensive weapon,” he points out.

A perfectionist, he prefers training teenagers or those even younger, shunning coaching assignments with established shuttlers because there's little room left to modify their game. With a back-to-basics view, he began research right from scratch — the grip.

Two years it took the fighting fit six-footer to design a racquet meeting his stringent standards. Thus was born Thwack JFX for juniors and SFX for seniors, racquets with embedded grooves in the grip, allowing a player to move his index finger forward for the forehand and slip it behind the thumb for the backhand.

“The grip's essence is to get your nimble fingers in the most appropriate position for a mix of tightness and relaxation for flawless striking of the shuttle from every angle,” says the steely-wristed titan.

“The unique and patented Guobao Grip will be the racquet's USP,” said Akhil Ganatra, Managing Director of One Group, which under Guobao's supervision, manufactures it at its Guangzhou factory for sale in the Far East, Europe and India, considered the sport's strongholds. “We are exploring the United States too, where following for the game is growing,” he added.

“We aim to bring fun back into fitness,” said Kiran Ganatra, Chairman, One Group. “Apart from the badminton racquets, we manufacture shuttle cocks, tennis balls, punch mitts, gloves and stylised kit bags,” he said.

“The upward curl to the horizontal of the ‘T' in Thwack's logo symbolises a player's hand raised, exulting in victory,” says Reji Mathew. “Priced between US $ 100 and 200, a training manual and video by coach Guobao come along with each racquet. Considering he never suffered a serious sports injury at the highest level, his tips on training routines should be a bonus. ‘Advantage. You.' is not just our bottom-line but our philosophy,” adds the Managing Director of One Sports Network.

A stunning demo by Muay Thai champion Kim Khan aka Zigzach showcased the Thwack Humanoid, an exercise partner designed on the principles of Wushu, the Chinese martial art. Pummelling the plastic model, with his gloved hands and feet, he said, “Unlike the punching bag, the Humanoid replicates the body and helps those practising to target points such as the jaw, face, solar plexus and though illegal in sports, the groin as well.”