Vimal Kumar, former national badminton champion and national coach, is a man in a hurry. His ward Saina Nehwal may have claimed the World No 1 ranking yesterday, but Kumar now wants Saina to win the big titles that have eluded her so far, such as the All England title.
Saina's coach Vimal Kumar
Kumar has his work cut out as he tries to bring some changes in her coaching regimen. In an interview with mid-day, Vimal talks about the virtues of World No 1 Saina and what more the ace shuttler needs to do.
Q. Saina has been training under you for nearly six months now. What are your observations about her in terms of her work ethic and outlook towards the game?
A. I have never seen anyone more industrious or more focussed on their work. Saina is amazing in terms of the hours she can put on the training field or the court. She comes back with renewed energy every time. A three-hour session sees her wanting more and more. She simply does not look exhausted or overworked. And after a break she comes back as fresh as before. We have worked on so many areas. She has become stronger, more aggressive on the court and is developing more strokes in her arsenal.
Q. Which strokes? One would have thought that she had all the necessary strokes already?
A. From each and every angle one must have variations. For example, from overhead area one must have the ability to play cross or straight. To play fast tosses in any direction and fast drop shots — all with almost the same action so that you have some deception. We have worked on these aspects. Saina hardly ever plays any backhand and, in fact, has to do some extraordinary bending down to convert a low shuttle to an overhead shot. She needs to have that strong backhand to get out of trouble. We are working on specific areas. She is also keenly interested in ironing out any weakness. She has many variations at the net. The lunge is there and once she reaches the shuttle in time she can and does play anywhere with confidence.
Saina Nehwal serves to Bae Yeon Ju during their Dubai World Super Series match at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai last December. Pic/Getty Images
Q. How receptive is Saina in learning new techniques or accepting new ideas?
A. Saina is a very clever girl. I think that she is also highly intelligent. You just cannot reach where she has by simply chasing the shuttle. She has the strokes and she knows where to use them. For example, against Wang Yihan in the semis at All England she was simply too good. Everything she did was perfect and timely. She used power with control and went after the points.
Q. What went wrong in the All England final?
A. We have not talked about it in detail. She just says that she went blank at a certain stage and just did not get going as she should have. When she is ready she will talk to me on that. I am not forcing her — and we have moved on. My feeling is that she was so happy on reaching the final after defeating Wang Yihan that she probably thought the final is going to be easy. Look at the way she celebrated after winning — throwing the racket, coming to embrace her coaches and all that. I have emphasised to her that every tournament has to be taken as the most important thing happening and every match has to be taken as the most important one. We cannot rest on laurels in sports. Today and now is what counts. I think she has understood the message.
Q. How important is the World No 1 ranking to both of you?
A. The World No 1 rank will give a higher profile to her and the game in India. But I am sure both of us will be happier if she wins the two big titles — the All England and the world championships. All said and done, Birmingham is still the most glamorous stage and the world championships the most important trophy on the shelf. Of course, next year’s Olympics is going to be our focus from now on.
Q. How far can she go, potential-wise?
A. Saina is already a living legend. She is in all probability the best female athlete the country has produced. Potential-wise, I see her winning all the big titles. She is already there. It is just a question of everything falling in place at the right time. With a bit of blessings from Almighty, Saina will achieve whatever she sets her mind on.