New Delhi: Chief national coach Pullela Gopichand has lavished praise on K Srikanth after his India Open triumph, describing him as a fighter with a great range of strokes but said he still needs to improve "mental aspects" to win more laurels for the country.
Srikanth edged out world no. 6 Viktor Axelsen 18-21 21-13 21-12 in the final to clinch his maiden India Super Series and Gopichand said consistency will be the key to his success in the coming days.
"I think consistency will be his key. We've seen him play well. When you win, you normally look invincible," he said.
"Talking from a coach's perspective, somebody's winning matches and suddenly they become slow and then they look as ordinary as anybody. "From that perspective it's good. He's got that ability to fight and he's got a great range of strokes that can help him change the tide of the game very quickly. We need to work on the mental aspect and physical aspects. There's still some way to go before we could be winning everything," he added.
Elaborating further on Srikanth's game, Gopichand said: "He has a big smash, good net hand, and with the range of strokes he has, it makes him very good at the end points. Because he has those elements of surprise, all he needs to do is create the opening and when he does, he has a big one to round it up and follow it up really well. "Having said that, we also have H S Prannoy, RMV Gurusaidutt, Ajay Jayaram, I think all of them have good strength."
Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal. Pic/ AFP
Before Srikanth scooped his trophy, new world no. 1 Saina Nehwal had already clinched her maiden women's singles title at the India Open after four years. Gopichand said it was a "dream come true" for him to see Srikanth and Saina bringing double delight to India yesterday at the Siri Fort Sports Complex.
"It's fantastic. Last few days have been great for Indian badminton. I'm extremely happy," he said. "When we started off, it was a dream. Today it's a reality. It could've been better With H S Prannoy knocking out Viktor Axelsen. (RMV) Gurusaidutt also had his chances against Xue Song. We could've had three players in the semis. "Having said that, they're all young. There is still time and it's a great beginning and we hope to continue with our success."
Asked about Saina's rise to the number one status, Gopichand said: "Fantastic. Last few years have been great for her. And I think to reach this ranking, is amazing for Saina, badminton and for sport in general."
"I think she is playing well, moving well. With whatever she's doing, she's comfortable with it." For someone, who leds by example, Gopichand said he is still learning as a coach and a better supporting staff will help India to get more accolades.
"I'm learning as well. Since when I started coaching, there was no one in top 100. Suddenly there were few. There was one Saina in the top 5 and (P V) Sindhu, Srikanth, (Parupalli) Kashyap and Prannoy there. Then you have Guru and all hanging behind them and then (B Sai) Praneeth," Gopichand said.
"We need a larger group of coaches. Need some more committed work to be done. We need more personal attention. People like Kiran as a physio have worked relentlessly in the
last few years. We need support staff which is solid. Then we'll get there.
"Not many people have the experience to tell me so that I can learn from them as well because not many people have these problems. But conditions are such and I'm working on them and hopefully we will come back next year with some answers," he added.
While India have done really well in the singles category, doubles remains an area of concern and Gopichand said there are some fundamental issues in the doubles competition. Asked if he is planning to hire someone for doubles, Gopichand said: "Yeah, but there are fundamental issues. We do not have still systems running across in the country. Look at the Chinese team, or the Korean or Japanese. The coach is incharge of everything.
"Here unfortunately that freedom and system is not there. Unless that system is not there in place, no coach can help us. We do not have enough people under the age of 18 who take doubles in the first place. "So unless you have a bunch of 30 kids playing doubles, we won't be able to produce players for the next 6-8 years. We need proper structures to be made. We need proper effort, decisions to be made. Decisions need to be hard, solid, you can not leave to various diktats of people to decide which route to go.
"People who have the knowledge of the sport should sit together and decide. There might be 3 or 4 different ways of doing it. We don't have to find a perfect system. I think it's just important to put a system in place, put rules in place and then everything will flow," he said.
Asked about Srikanth, Gopichand said: "He is a complete player but there are certain areas that need to be worked upon. His tosses were sloppy. "Every player will have certain strengths and weaknesses. It's important to win your matches on your strengths and not lose your matches on your weaknesses. Srikanth is smart enough to know when change is needed."