An event where the big guns boom

S. M. Arif with his wards at the Fateh Maidan indoor stadium courts.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

India’s reputed coach S. M. Arif is of the view that the World Championships could influence the way badminton is played in the country. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

He was India’s best-known badminton coach for close to three decades. He has also watched from close quarters three World Championships. No wonder then that Dronacharya S. M. Arif speaks on the subject with clarity and great authority.

So, what exactly are Arif’s views on the BWF Yonex-Sunrise World Championships, scheduled to be held in Hyderabad from August 10 to 16?

“It is a huge event for the sport in India. A dream come true for a genuine badminton lover, for the event showcases the best of the players in action. Badminton should get a major fillip across India thanks to this event.

'Saina Nehwal and Chetan Anand (below) should be really careful in not inviting any pressure; they should keep their minds free and fresh.'-AP

“The big difference between the World Championships and the other major events is: at the World Championships the big guns will be more than willing to compete whereas in the other events, they would be selective,” explains Arif, who even in the twilight of his illustrious career has been helping players such as Jwala Gutta and World No. 15 Chetan Anand to shape up at the Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad.

“I sincerely hope that after August, India would embrace the club culture akin to Indonesia where every club aspires to produce a world champion. We need to have at least 10 badminton academies across India with a lot of youngsters taking up the sport. Right now, most of the players are from the South. The game has to spread its base across India, and this is where I hope the World Championships will have a major influence,” says Arif.

“The championship itself is a huge learning experience, not just for the players but for the coaches too. This is the reason why I sincerely believe that any qualified coach of some repute should be given the facility to watch this mega event. By merely watching some of the finest players like World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei and three-time World champion Lin Dan one can pick up so many things,” he says.

AP

“What’s really amazing is the intensity of preparations of the players for a championship of this magnitude. They simply give their all for what is arguably the most prestigious badminton event in the world,” notes Arif.

“Unfortunately, when Prakash Padukone was conquering the world with his sublime skills, the World Championships were not there on the calendar. Those days, the All England Championship was deemed as the ultimate test for any player, and no wonder Padukone left an indelible stamp on that too by winning it in 1980,” Arif recalls.

“To be a world champion you have to belong to a different level. There are so many things involved — like keeping your emotions under control, being able to give off your best on a given day and maintaining that very high level of game right through the tournament. It’s a hell of an experience for a player and his coach out there,” he says.

Speaking of India’s prospects in the tournament, Arif says: “There is no doubting that Saina Nehwal will lead the Indian challenge by the sheer weight of her game and her recent performances. She is clearly a far more matured player with a definite improvement in her all-round game.”

Making an honest observation about the champion player, who fine-tuned her basic skills under his tutelage, Arif says: “If I were to pick any weaknesses in her game, it should be her backhand which she still tries to cover with her forehand. She has to improve her speed and should be equally good on backhand.”

What, in his view, is the biggest challenge for the Indians at the World Championships?

“Well, it is all about peaking at the right time. Essentially, players such as Saina and Chetan should be ready for the event game-wise. But they should be really careful in not inviting any pressure; they should keep their minds free and fresh. There are two sides to the crowd support here — it can either really lift a player’s morale or can put pressure on him by virtue of high expectations. However, the home conditions are a major plus for the Indians. And they should really take advantage of this,” says Arif.

“Saina and Chetan should remember that each player they face at the World Championships — irrespective of the fact whether he had been beaten or not by the Indians earlier — will be here with preparations of the highest order. But at the same time, quite honestly, this is the best chance for the Indians to give off their best.”

Arif, for long ignored by the officialdom here despite his best credentials, says he will witness the championship only if invited; he won’t stand in the queue to buy his ticket. “I would love to be there, but I have my own reservations,” he says before breaking off to join his wards at the stadium for another gruelling session of training.