India badminton coach Pullela Gopichand tips Sindhu to repeat Saina Nehwal's 2010 show at Glasgow CWG
Pullela Gopichand is a one-man industry as far as Indian badminton is concerned. The former All England champion and national chief coach for nearly a decade now has helped the nation emerge as formidable unit in the sport on the world stage.
India's PV Sindhu. Pics/AFP. Getty Images
India's Saina Nehwal won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and followed it up with a historic Olympic bronze at London 2012. Teenage prodigy PC Sindhu also scripted history with a medal at the World Championships where she defeated some of the world's top players including the fabled Chinese.
Under Gopichand, Indian men have also done well in singles while the team won silver at the CWG 2010. Recently, India's eves rewrote history once again with a bronze at the prestigious Uber Cup. So, what's in store at Glasgow 2014 that begins on Wednesday? In an interview with mid-day, Gopichand says his team is aiming for the stars once again.
What changes has Indian badminton been through since the 2010 CWG?
We have become quite a strong badminton country now. Our base can still be stronger though because it's still not easy to beat the Chinese or Koreans etc. But we have won quite a few medals in the international arena and made our presence felt. We are taken seriously now. Since CWG 2010, when basically it all started, players like Saina, Jwala (Gutta), Ashwini (Ponappa), Sindhu, (Parupalli) Kashyap, (Kidambi) Srikanth, etc have become very famous. Secondly, infrastructure is getting better and the Badminton Association of India has helped with the right motivation and direction. It's tough to pick the most satisfying success yet, but the Uber Cup bronze was very heartening.
What are our medal prospects in Glasgow?
We strong in ladies singles, though Kristy Gilmour of Scotland and Canada's Li Michelle are the names that our girls must be careful of. Even though Saina, who has withdrawn due to severe blisters that refuse to heal, Sindhu will be among the favourites for the big medal. She has a very good chance. We also have a very good chance of retaining the gold in the ladies doubles as Jwala and Ashwini are playing well. Malaysian World No 1 Lee Chong Wei's absence opens the men's singles event too. Our boys are fit and raring to go, but in Wei Feng Chong of Malaysia we have a tough customer. He's really good and will spearhead the Malaysian challenge. England's Rajiv Ouseph will have home advantage. Overall, we are good for a couple of medals here too. For gold, I'd say it's 50-50. It will depend on the player's form on the given day. In the mixed and men doubles we may struggle as there are some good pairs around. That's still our weak link.
What about the team championships where we won silver in New Delhi?
We did well to defeat England last time and they will be hungry for revenge. But it's a 50-50 chance for gold as Malaysia is there too, and despite Lee Chong Wei's absence, they are still a balanced side. Our strength lies in in ladies singles and doubles, while the Malaysians are better in the men's and mixed events. But a first ever team gold at the CWG will be the icing on the cake and it is within our reach.
Finally, any basic problem areas in Indian badminton that you need to look at to further enhance our global success?
We are still a bit weak in the doubles events. Though Jwala and Ashwini are doing well enough — they just won us a bronze medal at the Asian Championships — we need many more such players. We have specialist coaches now for doubles and BAI is looking into this aspect seriously. So, it should be a matter of time before India starts producing some more top class players to follow in the footsteps of Jwala and Ashwini. In ladies singles, Saina and Sindhu are doing fine and have many years of badminton left in them. Among the men, Srikanth, Sourabh, Sai Praneet, etc are still developing and will be top class with some more experience. But in both events we need to have many more players so that we can rise to a higher standard. Traditionally, India has done well in singles events. But with more focus and direction given to paired events, I'm sure we will soon have top class pairs all over. Besides, having so many international events in India is also helps.