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Coach par excellence

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM
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In focus Considered the lucky mascot by Saina Nehwal, coach Bhaskar Babu is dedication personified

“H e is the lucky mascot. I am happy to work with him,” says Saina Nehwal.

The ace shuttler has won five titles and a semi-final appearance in 2010! But, far away from the intensity of on-court battles, a 54-year-old coach has been involved in plotting the downfall of the best of the opponents lined up against Saina when she hogged the limelight. All with the objective of ensuring the 20-year-old sustains the desired levels of excellence. And that is Palanki Uday Bhaskar Babu, the Sports Authority of India coach from Vijayawada.

What exactly does he do on tours?

“To be honest, Saina has stepped into the big league and doesn't need to be coaxed to train rigorously. She belongs to a different class. But, yes I have to take care of the training schedule and most importantly do an exhaustive study of the games of the players whom she will play,” explains Bhaskar Babu.

“It definitely means studying the video footage of the big guns. We sit together and analyse them. She is a dedicated listener. Even while playing, during breaks, she just listens to what we (coaches) say and never utters a word. But, I can tell you she just goes out there and implements what we tell her,” he adds.

“During the recent Hong Kong Open, I thought attacking the Chinese players with cross-court rallies will be a better option to make them look vulnerable. She did exactly that even while playing her natural game and the result is there for all to see,” recalls the coach.

“It is my primary job to keep her in the best frame of mind,” he asserts. “She is a coach's delight, for rarely do you find her complaining about anything.”

What is the big change he saw in Saina over the last four years?

“I was there in 2006 when she won the Phillipines Open. Frankly, she did not have the strokes and the court coverage which she has now. She is a transformed player both mentally — in terms of tactics — and physically too.”

Is there any grey area of concern now?

“She is one who runs on the court, literally, and because of the nature of her game, the fitness levels are very demanding.”

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

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