SAYING THAT it was unlikely that he would be able to devote the same time to his daughter, Gayatri, as he had to Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu at an earlier stage of his coaching career, India’s badminton national coach Pullela Gopichand took on the question of an imminent conflict at the Express Adda on Tuesday.
“It’s important to keep things in perspective and to ensure that me being with Sindhu and wanting her to develop her game does not mean that it is to beat Saina. I want Saina to be the best that she can be, Sindhu to be the best of what she can be,” he said at the event, which brought together the coach-athlete partnership of Sindhu and Gopichand. The event was brought together by PBL.
“Tomorrow, if my daughter has the potential, I want to give her as much time as it is possible for me. I can never give Gayatri the amount of time that I have given Saina or Sindhu. I can’t because I think I have too much work and I can only give so much time to her,” he said.
Stressing that it was important for a coach to be fair as well as to be seen as fair, he said he ran the risk of spreading himself thin, and his trainees routinely demanded more of his time. “Over the years, this has been a question. To be honest, I think Saina felt at a point that I wasn’t able to give attention. Every player at the academy (feels it). I meet (Parupalli) Kashyap. Once a month or once in two months he comes and says ‘I wish you had been there with me at the World Championship. You would have said something and I would have won’. Sindhu is telling me, ‘Anna, you should have travelled with me for the last few tournaments. I would have won’. Saina is saying, ‘Bhaiya, you take rest now, next year on the circuit I want you back’.”
Asked to respond to the issue, Sindhu said: “Everybody has a different style of play so it’s important for everybody to have their own space… I think, from his perspective, Saina is doing well and she will be there up to her expectations. And I will do well, I will work hard and I will be up to my expectations. Now, Gayatri is coming up, and in a few years she would do well and go up to her expectations. So it’s not that he will give importance to one person and not the other, but he would just give equal importance to everyone.”
Gopichand recalled how on the day of the all-India Commonwealth Games final, he had taken off to check out the athletics track, secure in the knowledge that both the medals were in the bag.
“Although it might seem like a big thing from the outside, you’d see it as a Saina vs Sindhu match, for me it happens all the time. In the sense that it happens at an U-13, U-15 level, so it’s very normal for me,” he added.
Asked whether Sindhu’s losses in major finals could be viewed as “just a silver”, Gopichand said: “I think, to be honest, we haven’t reached a stage where we can say ‘it’s just a silver’. I wish we had, but we haven’t. It means a lot for us. I think it’s not ‘just a silver’.”
“People keep asking me, when you come to the finals, are you not able to break (the jinx), or is something going on in your mind, or when you come to the finals do you feel any pressure… But it’s nothing like that. Sometimes, it’s just something to do with the strokes. Sometimes, I need to learn a lot more. Maybe it’s just a few points that I think that strategy-wise something went wrong. That’s all that’s happening… We just go into the finals thinking that we want to win that, we want to get the gold,” said Sindhu.
Talking about just how far the sport has come in the last decade, Gopichand said developments like the Premier Badminton League have significantly altered the economic status of India’s elite players. He recalled telling an official in 2011 that a revolution was afoot. “There are a lot of these kids who are playing badminton, people who are coming on bikes… thanks to PBL, tomorrow they will come in a car,” he said.