Nehwal has always been the prima donna at the Gopichand Academy, but the enigmatic rise of teenager PV Sindhu has stolen her limelight and the coach's time and attention
In these pages couple of months ago, I had analysed why India's star shuttler Saina Nehwal was having a bleak time on the BWF world circuit.
Shuttler Saina Nehwal with Pullela Gopichand. Pic/AFP
I had said that she still has the game and hunger to bounce back, but needed to do two things. Firstly, start thinking on her feet, and secondly, get a change of scenery by perhaps going out of India for a short training/coaching stint.
I did foresee a break between Saina and coach Pullela Gopichand, which has happened before too, but never thought it could happen again.
Even today, only Saina and Gopi — the two personalities in this play — know what really happened and whether this break is only up to the Asian Games, as Saina claims.
If this were true, then a mere 15 days of training under (Saina's new coach) Vimal Kumar is not going to do any good. Surely, a much longer stint is required if Saina's game needs to be modified in any way. Only time will tell whether Vimal is the right man for the job.
In the past, coach Bhaskar Babu's opinion swayed Saina. This time, she says that Vimal's tips helped her at the Uber Cup.
It is a fact that Saina had been feeling a bit stifled at Gopi's training center in the recent past as Gopi has been heavily burdened with too many star students/players all demanding equal attention.
For long, Saina was the prima donna at Gopichand's academy — deserving and getting those extra hours from the coach. But in the last couple of years, the enigmatic rise of teenager PV Sindhu has stolen the limelight away from Saina.
And indeed a lot of Gopi's time and attention too. It is said that two swords cannot be forced into one sheath and two tigresses cannot be held in a single cage. Here too, this could be a major reason for the latest fallout between Saina and Gopi both of whom have made the country proud in last six or seven years.
Lack of attention?
The question however is whether Saina's defeat at the BWF World Championships in Copenhagen to Li Xeurui was because of this lack of attention from the coach.
I feel that one particular stroke — the fast overhead cross-court drop shot — executed perfectly by Li, caused all the damage. Saina never read that shot, had no counter to it and lost numerous points. That's why she needs to think on her feet.
The change in scenery (coaching angle) has come but we do not know whether it's for a short or long duration. Sadly, it may well be the end of a fairy-tale.
Vimal meanwhile, has his work cut out as far as the psychological aspect goes. He's getting to hone an already talented player, who has twice been World No 2, and is still only 24 years old. Saina is already very fit and experienced and knows what it takes to go for the jugular.
The interesting thing to watch out for though will be whether Vimal can make Saina start thinking on her feet and come out with counter attacks. The buck stops here. There are no fallbacks once you are on court and the umpire says, "play, love-all."
The writer is a former India badminton player