National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand is optimistic that India’s shuttlers will return home with at least one medal from the London Olympics.
The five-member Indian team is undergoing intensive training under the former All England champion at his world-class badminton academy in Hyderabad.
After his heartbreaking defeat at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 39-year-old is working hard to realise his Olympic dream, albeit in a different role.
Excerpts from an interview with Gopichand:
On the team’s prospects: Overall the team is good. We have strong players in women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. P. Kashyap’s performance at the Indonesian Open was encouraging. So we do expect some positive results out of this tournament
On Saina Nehwal’s chances of winning a medal: I think she is definitely a prospect, there is no doubt. But it all depends on how good she translates..... be pressure free playing those matches. It is going to be tough. Lot of players will be training hard to beat her. It will be challenging and interesting event. There are a lot of tough players, especially in the women’s singles. It is very open field but definitely Saina has a chance.
On the maximum number of Indian players at the Olympics: I think it is good. Women’s doubles and mixed doubles are strong events and we have been doing well in these events. We are optimistic of coming back with a medal
On the Wembley Arena, the badminton venue: It is a perfect venue, it is fantastic. There is nothing to compare, conditions are very good for badminton.
On the team’s preparations: Broadly, our preparation depends on the kind of mistakes we have committed in the last few tournaments and looking at the venue what we should do. By and large that is how we prepare. And when we have the draw we strategise studying the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent.
On the strategy to tackle the Chinese: I think we are working on it, we have some ideas. We are working and hope we will be up to the challenge.
On P. Kashyap’s prospects: It will be tough in the men’s singles, but the way he has played in Indonesia he has great potential and we hope that he can put up a good show.
On women’s doubles and mixed doubles: We have a fairly good chance of winning a medal in the women’s doubles. Jwala (Gutta) and Ashwini (Ponnappa) are looking good. They are a formidable combination. I would say I am very optimistic that we have a medal in women’s doubles event and mixed doubles. In both these events we have strong representation and we expect to win a medal.
Are the players mentally prepared for the challenge: I think they are geared up. Everybody is looking forward to the event and the expectations are huge. We expect some good results
Will there be a pressure of playing Olympics: Yes, it will be there. It is a premier event. The atmosphere, the media, it is completely different from other tournaments. The scale, the grandeur everything is different. It definitely grips you. Definitely there is pressure. Some people play better under pressure, some crack. Much will depend how well they can absorb the pressure and perform to their potential.