As commiserations for the heart-breaking loss against Michelle Li of Canada in the semifinals of the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow where she ought to have won gold, PV Sindhu received a single, wordless, ruffling pat on the top of her head as she hunched down post defeat and broke down in tears. Pullela Gopichand allowed her the grief, and in turn let her deal with growing up on her own.
That was the last time the Games were ever mentioned between the two. And within a month of that cruel denial of a gold medal, which Sindhu realised was no entitlement but needed to be fought for and won, Gopichand was back court-side in Copenhagen. This time with a pat on her back as she refused to see the ‘Exit’ signs at the Ballerup Super Arena, and twice cheated defeat with her defiant play to ensure herself a bronze at Copenhagen’s World Championships.
Whatever dismay she felt, Gopichand did not encourage her to brood over it. “She might’ve been upset, but the last time we spoke about it was on the day she lost. Never after that,” the coach had said after she made the semifinals of the Worlds.
Never one for long, dull sermons, Gopichand had quietly offered Sindhu reassurance while shielding her from the high pressure of expectations that are regularly exerted on Indian shuttlers ever since Saina Nehwal raised the success bar for her compatriots.
After her loss to Carolina Marin in the semis at Denmark, the coach would’ve sure steered her towards focussing on the next target — the Asian Games at Incheon.
These days the coach gets prickly when his ward is pulled up for her inconsistencies — losing to an obscure Canadian one day or going out in Round 1 or 2 in the Super Series and then suddenly slaying the Chinese the next month. He begs she be treated still as a work-in-progress. As someone who’s only half-chiselled in her game. As a teenager. “She’s just 19, we forget that,” he says, asking for perspective to be employed when judging her failures and celebrating her triumphs.
“She’s not lost so badly that she should be written off, and she’s still not won so much that we start expecting her to win every game. I’ll keep saying, she still has time to improve, to add to her shots. At least two more years before we see her best,” is Gopichand’s constant refrain, repeated after she bested Shixian Wang in the quarters. The ouster in the semis proved why she needed him as coach with a steady intent.
“For me, she’ll still be up and down, struggle and shine alternately,” he stresses.
It is this absolute patience – conveyed continued…