Pullela Gopichand reveals the secret behind Saina and Sindhu’s rise to world-class status

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Pullela Gopichand reveals the secret behind Saina and Sindhu’s rise to world-class status

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SportsCafe Desk


Pullela Gopichand reckons that Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, wh have a combined 13 Superseries titles, have a strong affinity for achievement and learn things quickly. He further went on to talk about the competition between the duo and said that they compete extremely so as to not lose to the other.

Gopichand shared stories of the transformation of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu from rookies to world-class players at a FICCI FLO gathering over the weekend while speaking with Rajesh Kalra, chief editor of Times Internet, who is also on the PM’s Olympic Task Force. According to Gopichand, when girls decide to achieve something, they will put their heart and soul into working towards their goal. They pursue their desire with a strong mind, learn things quickly and display the skills with confidence. He linked these attributes to the success of his protégés Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu in the badminton world.

Gopichand explained by first taking Saina’s story into account. He said that the former World No 1 Nehwal has a “rock solid” temperament and she is a “class apart”. He further said that all she wants to do is to win matches and it is people like her who can uplift the participation of Indian women in international sports.

“She would not worry if her opponent was a senior Indian or a World No 1, 2, or 3. We would do no big talks or half-an-hour lectures before the match. She would go in saying ‘haan, maar doongibhaiya’ (I will defeat the opponent), and come back to tell me, ‘Jeet gayi, bhaiya’ (I won),” he recalled.

“She was 17 or 18 when she lost the quarter finals at 2008 Olympics. She was disheartened. So while coming back in the bus, I told her jokingly ‘Tomorrow, 6am’. I didn’t expect her to say ‘yes’ because we had been training for five-six months. Instead she asked, ‘Bhaiya, can we start the training at 6.30am?’" Once, they landed up in China during the New Year, with pretty much only meat on the dining table. “Saina was a vegetarian, so I had to introduce her to meat. She started off with duck’s tongue!”

PV Sindhu was next to follow in his memoirs. She has been training at Gopichand’s Hyderabad academy since she was nine and has come a long way to become an Olympic medallist.

“I used to wake up at 4 am to meditate. Then I used to train Saina, Srikanth (Kidambi) and others from 5.30am. I didn’t have time to accommodate Sindhu. But when Sindhu barely managed to get into the sub-junior nationals, I told myself: “Forget meditation’ and asked her to come for training at 4.15am.” She did, and continued to show up at 4.15am till January 2017. That training went beyond hitting the shuttle right. “Sindhu is a shy girl. So I would leave her in the middle of the court to stand and shout. She would end up crying but not shouting, and then I would get to hear a shriek.”

Karla then dropped the big question - What is the rapport between Nehwal, 28, and Sindhu, 22? The former defeated her compatriot to clinch the women’s singles at the 21st Commonwealth Games last month. All that Gopichand could comment was, “They are extremely competitive. They don’t want to lose out to each other.”

Gopichand had many sleepless nights and felt despair when his students lost matches. But the 44-year-old has learnt to be more composed than the angry persona he once portrayed. Yoga and meditation may have shaped him but it was especially the injuries he incurred as a player, he admitted.

“When you fall so many times in life (literally), you become humble,” said the former All England Open Badminton Champion. “Also, in sport you are never far away from a defeat. So you can’t take things for granted.”

Nehwal, Sindhu and other distinguished students' stardom did not change the relationship they had with their coach.

“We are more like a family. Earlier, I would take them out for a buffet of `199. Then it became `300. Now they want to go hotels. Earlier, we would have bikes parked in the academy, now we have cars. Only that has changed.”

His young guns help him download apps or listen to podcasts.

"Saina is a big Bollywood fan, she keeps telling me about films,” says Gopichand, whose life will be rolled out as a biopic in Bollywood, and so will Nehwal’s in separate films.

Coming to his own family’s involvement in his career, Gopichand spoke of his mother who has been a “solid” force in encouraging him and how he can’t afford his former shuttle player-wife PVV Lakshmi as a coach in his academy. He also mentioned his 13-year-old daughter.

“I threw shuttle at her, she fumbled and missed the catch. I got annoyed, asked her ‘Can’t you catch properly?’, and walked off. Later, she came to me and said, ‘Teach me how to catch’.”

Gopichand then explained the importance of maintaining the balance between sports and studies. He said that it is important to have physical literacy as much as regular schooling.

“Sports has a bigger role in life. If you learn to walk, run, throw, catch, jump and swim while you are young, you will grow up to be confident.... So every kid must play sports.”

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