As a player, coach and fan, I am super excited about the progress of Indian badminton: Gopichand

Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

Pullela Gopichand needs no introduction. In a career cut short by injuries, he won the All England Open in 2001. Soon after retirement, he turned to coaching and set up a top class academy in Hyderabad. During his days, Indians use to lose in the qualifying stages in top events. Today, they are medal contenders in such tournaments. Olympic medals, World Championship medals have become a reality. And a number of players have secured those, not just one or two. As chief coach of the national team, Gopichand has masterminded this transformation. Ahead of the India Open, Gopichand had an exclusive chat with RevSportz. The following are the excerpts…

Q: Such a big tournament is going to be held in India for the first time. What does it say of India’s growing reputation as a badminton nation?

A: It was important to host a tournament of this level. We have done well in the last few years, won medals in the major events and to cap it off, won the Thomas Cup. India as a country is big enough and strong enough to host top tournaments. It’s an important step to be hosting this. It shows that the rise as a playing nation and host nation are coming together. Getting to play in home conditions is an advantage. Also, younger players get to watch top players in action. People get to watch the best in the world. Plus, we have multiple entries in each section. It’s good for badminton in our country.


Q: You had a dream of putting Indian badminton on the world map. How satisfying is it to see our players win medals in major competitions?

A: It’s a great feeling. From the day I played my first international tournament to where we are now, the transformation has been huge. In 1991, we went to the Malaysian Open and all of us lost in the first round. From there to go to those tournaments and be the favourites, to be playing on the last days of the tournaments, has been a remarkable turnaround for Indian badminton, something I am really happy about. As a player, as a coach, and as a fan, I am super excited about it.


Q: In the Malaysian Open (the season opener) we did not win anything. What according to you are the major takeaways from that tournament?

A: I think it’s the beginning of the year. There was a lay-off about a month or a month and a half. Some of them had not played a lot of late. Sindhu was out for about 3-4 months. It’s (not finishing on the podium in Malaysia) not too much of a concern. But the performance of Satwik and Chirag was very good. It’s been a very positive start for them.


Q: Sindhu has come back after some time. How far from her peak is she?

A: After you have a 3-4 month break, it takes time to come back to your best. And that was just her first match. But I am sure with the kind of experience and potential she has, she will be back at her best quite soon. Hopefully, it will start from the India Open.


Q: It’s Lakshya vs Prannoy again in the first round. What do you tell the players when this happens?

A: If we have multiple players in the top 32, this is bound to open. It’s the luck of the draw in some sense. But I believe this is how it’s going to be because we are having more and more players (in the top 32). And somehow, the world badminton draw happens in such a way that if you draw a particular player in the season, you tend to draw the same player more often. But ultimately, it’s the luck of the draw. When this happens, I just stay away from the match. That has always been the case since the day I started coaching. When two Indians or two of my students play against each other in a tournament, I just stay away.


Q: Satwik and Chirag have been doing very well. How important is this tournament for them?

A: They are a fantastic pair. They have the strength and ability to dominate world badminton in the future. They have progressed well. They are young and strong. That’s a good combination. There is also great camaraderie among them. They complement each other. I do believe they are a great prospect for the future. On this day, they are among the real top. They need to win more tournaments for us to say this more consistently. But on their day, in any place, they have a chance against anyone in the world.


Q: Saina and Sindhu have been the flag-bearers of Indian badminton for a long time. In the women’s section, who after the two of them?

A: See, the next set of players like Malvika, Akarshi, Tasnim, Unnati, Asmita are very young. Some of them are 19-20, some of them are about 14. I am expecting them to come through the ranks in the next few years. In the last two years, the progression has been a bit slow. Not just in India, but across the world including in China, Thailand and Indonesia. Almost everywhere, the same players have been continuing. And because of Covid, the younger players have not been able to compete. That has played a part in the progression being slow. But with things opening up and players getting a chance to play again, things will change. This year we have four entries in women’s singles (at India Open). We have nine in the top 100. I am expecting that in a couple of years, this question will be answered.

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