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Badminton's brightest faces

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MASTER'S MUSINGS Pullela Gopi Chand, in a new role
MASTER'S MUSINGS Pullela Gopi Chand, in a new role

There is a refreshing change in the performance of our juniors, national coach Pullela Gopi Chand tells STAN RAYAN

As he watched the badminton action from a quiet chair at the Regional Sports Centre's top stand, one noticed a small smile playing on Pullela Gopi Chand's face. Just two years ago, the former All England champion was upset that the juniors were not pushing the seniors. That's the reason for the big boys stagnating, he had said then.Pleasantly, things are very different now."The gap between the juniors and seniors has come down in a big way, especially in the women's section. Girls like Saina Nehwal, Sayali Gokhale, Ruth Misha and Kerala's Aparna Balan are doing very well," said Gopi Chand, the new chief national coach, during the Indian Oil RSC all-India junior ranking tournament in Kochi. "The boys are also improving but the distance between the juniors and men here is a lot bigger than the girls."With the Badminton Association of India setting strong goals for the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games and the 2012 London Olympics, the focus will now be on juniors, he said and almost instantly adding, "but the seniors will not be overlooked." He is also keen on sending players for training stints abroad.

Chinese puzzle

Talk slowly veered to the country's brightest junior, Saina Nehwal. "Saina should definitely be among the top three or four juniors in the world," said Gopi Chand. "But the world is now all China."So, how do we break the Chinese puzzle?"Speed is one factor. Saina needs to be very strong mentally because when she goes for tournaments now, her opponent in the quarterfinal, semifinal and the final will all be Chinese," said the Hyderabad-based star who runs an academy back home."But Camilla Martin (the former World No.1 from Denmark) was able to dominate them. Her strokes were very good. That's the key." Chinese coaches could soon be playing a big role in Indian badminton. Gopi Chand has plans to bring a female Chinese coach for his academy and also a male coach to train the national campers.Regarding the men, he said Arvind Bhat, Anup Sridhar and Chetan Anand have it in them to come good. "The results are good, a few positives here and there. But they need to work a lot more on the international points."

National camps in Kochi

With the Badminton Association of India now picking Kochi's Regional Sports Centre as a venue for national camps, Gopi Chand and a few foreign coaches could be making frequent trips to the city in future. Some of India's best doubles players, including national champions Sanave Thomas and Rupesh Kumar, now train in Kochi and having the national camp at the Regional Sports Centre would make sound logic. That way, the services of the Indonesian coach Hadi Sugianto, who has been training the doubles stars the last couple of years at the national camp, would be better utilised. With the camp days being limited and with players often turning up late, the Indonesian coach had been sitting idle for long periods last year.

New advantage

The new rally-point scoring system has given India a big advantage. "Earlier, we had a problem with endurance. But the game is shorter now, that helps us," said the 32-year-old."To some extent, the recent impressive performances in the international circuit are a result of the new scoring format. India can be among the world's top five countries within the next five to six years," he said.With plastic shuttles also coming in, the future of the sport is more economical. "Badminton is growing in popularity. The RSC tournament received 1,200 entries, that's a very impressive number."And how is the transformation from player to coach?"It's quite interesting... a lot more careers to work on, a lot more thinking to do, a lot more viewpoints to take and a lot more things to teach. And given that it's Indian badminton, definitely it's a big challenge."Sure it is.

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