Saina Nehwal’s long-time coach and mentor P Gopichand was clearly unprepared for the news of his split with the Olympic medallist and her moving to Bangalore to train with Vimal Kumar making it to Tuesday’s papers, but chose to reserve comment on the matter until later. “I have just landed and read about what she’s said in newspapers. At this point, I don’t want to comment anything about it,” Gopichand said, soon after landing at Delhi from Copenhagen, and before heading off to Hyderabad.
In moving to Bangalore and training under new coach Vimal Kumar, Saina Nehwal wants to “rough it out” and is hoping that “working under constraints might bring out the best in her”, according to her father Harvir Singh.
Nehwal returned from Copenhagen’s World Championships and announced to her family that she would travel to Bangalore to train with Vimal Kumar and not at Hyderabad ahead of the Asian Games, in a decision that initially baffled her father, till she explained her reasoning.
“It is just a temporary change, and she respects Gopichand too much to “split” with the coach. But yes, she realised that a little change and the accompanying challenges might do her good. Sometimes roughing it out can help push a person, and working under constraints can bring the best out of people,” Harvir said, adding that it is too premature to guess where the Olympic bronze medallist will train post Asian Games. “Let’s see how this goes. As of now, this is very tournament-specific, and she is scheduled to return to Hyderabad after the Asian Games,” he added.
The father later said that coupled with yet another sub-par exit at the World Championship which has increased her desire to do well at the Asiad, a few other things had been playing on her mind. “She needed to be more focused. Here because she lives a few minutes from the Academy and everything is set up for her, there was a comfort zone. She also wanted to prove to herself and the world that she can rough it out. Bangalore is also a BAI-accredited academy, and Vimal Kumar has always helped her since her first CWG in 2006 and at the Uber Cup, so why not,” he said.
Interestingly, coach Gopichand too had cocooned himself at Bangalore’s SAI ahead of his All England triumph.
It is for the second time that the quadrennial Asian Games has proved to be a trigger for Saina deciding not to train with Gopichand.
It was right after Guangzhou that she had ‘split’ with her coach owing to differences that both had refused to elaborate on. She had reunited with the national coach and had gone on to win the Olympics bronze.
In the last few years, Saina has had to contend with sharing the coach with other singles players including PV Sindhu and P Kashyap, and the coach is often seen rushing between adjacent courts at tournaments. When asked if it was for want of individual attention (quite necessary for top 10 players) Harvir said that Saina also needed to get accustomed to thinking independently since the national coach had several wards to take care of.
“We know he’ll be there for her. But at this stage of her career, she needs to show urgency in taking decisions and her loss to Li Xuerui told her that maybe her own efforts needed to be more and she needed to push herself. This is a brave call, because she really wants to win a medal at Incheon,” he said of yet another failed attempt to the summit of the World Championships, which ended in quarters.
Saina will travel to Bangalore with physio Johnson in the absence of regular C Kiran, and will stay at the academy till she heads to Incheon.
Earlier, Saina had told PTI: “I wanted to train under Vimal sir ahead of the Asian Games as his advice helped me during the Uber Cup. Asian Games is a big tournament and I feel he can help me. I reached Bangalore today and I will train under him for the next 15 days. I want to win a medal at the Asian Games and hope it helps me to do well there. It is just a 15-day stint and after the tournament I will be back in Hyderabad. Gopi sir remains my coach and this is just a temporary thing.”
It’s been a rough ride away from injury for Saina since the Olympics, and even her last title in Australia was marred by toe blisters. “There’s no politics in the decision. Maybe she needed the jolt of the Worlds to seek change. And now she’ll do whatever it takes for the Asiad medal,” Harvir concluded.