National coach Pullela Gopi Chand says things are looking up for Indian badminton with our players performing well in international tournaments
Everything about Pullela Gopi Chand is understated. He speaks softly, but what he speaks makes a lot of sense. From his attire to his gait and demeanour, you perceive dignity and elegance. It's his ability to do his job to perfection without any desire for publicity that has made the National badminton coach a much-respected man in badminton circles.
If Indian badminton is in the pink of health, then Gopi can take some credit for it, though he would quietly disagree that he played a part in the transformation the game has undergone over the last six years.
There are as many as eight players in the top 40 in the world — Saina Nehwal is No.6 in women's singles, Aditi Mutatkar is No.33, Chetan Anand is ranked No. 19 in men's singles, Jwala Gutta and V. Diju duo is No.11 in mixed doubles, Arvind Bhat and P. Kashyap are ranked No. 33 and 40 respectively in singles, the Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa pair is No.25 in women's doubles. There are other promising young players such as Siki Reddy, P. C. Thulasi, P. V. Sindhu, Praneeth, Prannoy and Pranav who are training hard and keen to make it to the top. India reached Group I in the Sudirman Cup, a mixed doubles international tournament, for the first time, last year. The Indian men's and women's team did well to reach the knock-out stages of the Thomas and Uber Cup finals in May, this year.
“The Badminton Association of India (BAI), under its president V.K. Verma, has done a fantastic job in organising International tournaments in India. The future of badminton looks bright,” said 36-year-old Gopi, a former all-England badminton champion.
The Academy in his name in Hyderabad has become the base for National camps where players regularly practise. The camps, players insist, boost their confidence, skills and endurance. The way Indian players played in the Grand Prix gold event in Chennai was a revelation. “You develop skills early, but physical fitness is developed over the years. You saw the fitness level of the Indians in the Chennai tournament. I think fitness and skills are equally important and go hand-in-hand,” he said.
Gopi said in no uncertain terms that he was not in favour of Government interference, especially in a sport where India is performing well. “Merit should be the main consideration. Badminton is doing well under Verma. We have had several tournaments such as the world championships, the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix gold events and the Asia championships. The Super Series tournaments will be held in India for the next three years. The players' performance is good. I see no reason why there should be any interference,” he argued.
Gopi said every State had immense talent but nurturing it was a problem. He didn't agree with the opinion that Tamil Nadu didn't have much young talent. To complement the efforts of his Academy, Gopi contemplates setting up of more feeder centres which will help groom young players. “We are planning to have one in Madhya Pradesh in July. As much as feeder centres are important, emphasis should also be on efficient coaches,” he said.
Have the pressures of the job — travelling, networking and coaching — diminished his love for the sport? “It's been hectic but badminton is the only thing I know. I am not tired, but excited. It's been a great learning experience. Work has been satisfying. I couldn't have asked for more,” he smiles.