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Saina Nehwal started it

Updated on: 21 August,2022 07:15 AM IST  |  Hyderabad
N Jagannath Das |

Chief coach P Gopichand credits Nehwal for the rise in recent stocks of India’s badminton, ahead of World Championships

Saina Nehwal started it

Saina Nehwal

Indian shuttlers are on a high. They have never had it so good. The spectacular maiden Thomas Cup title win followed by a stellar show at Commonwealth Games in Birmingham recently has put them in true spotlight. 

As the World Championships begin on Monday in Tokyo, there is another chance for India to enhance their reputation even though star player PV Sindhu has skipped the event due to injury. 

Lakshya SenLakshya Sen

Pullela Gopichand, chief coach and vice-president of the Badminton Federation of India, reckons the Thomas Cup win and the creditable show at the Commonwealth Games have to lot to do with the rise of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. “We always had some depth in men’s singles, but a strong pair makes the team formidable,’’ Gopichand, 48, told Sunday mid-day from Guwahati. 

‘Sen at the top augurs well’

Lakshya Sen’s rise has added to the positive atmosphere. “Sen at the top augurs well for Indian badminton. We have success stories of Saina Nehwal and Sindhu in the last 10 years. The women’s singles was strong for India and continues to be so. Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy have been exceptional. We are looking at a strong Team India,” stressed Gopichand. 

Also Read: Thomas Cup win hasn’t changed anything much for us: Badminton star Prannoy

Pullela GopichandPullela Gopichand

According to the 2001 All England champion, the evolution of sports science has raised the game in the country and more importantly, the support, which they get from the government, has been crucial. “In the early years of my coaching, we did not have these many facilities. It is a different story now. There is a support staff that caters to the needs of players—from fitness, diet to recovery exercises. There are now personal trainers for the players travelling with the team. That has definitely helped in the longevity of the players and injury management in a much better way.’’

Fearless attitude

Gopichand didn’t leave out the contribution of Nehwal, who inspired a new generation of badminton players. “They are fearless, not scared of defeats. I will attribute this new era of self-belief to Saina. She was the one who started winning consistently at the world level although I won the All England title after a long period of time [after Prakash Padukone in 1980]. Saina’s exploits were followed up by Sindhu. We had a series of wins in other big events like the best performance in the Olympics in 2012 and 2014 Commonwealth Games. Since then, I think, in every big tournament, we have had some achievements. This has improved steadily.’’

The veteran shuttler was thrilled to bits over the 2022 Commonwealth Games show. “Interestingly, the badminton team was not considered in the 1994 Commonwealth Games because there was little hope of winning any medals. We were dropped from the priority list. To move from there to here is an amazing feat. We have now won the highest number of medals in the Commonwealth Games. It also coincides with the rise of Indian badminton in the world. Parents are looking up to this sport now as a career for their kids,” Gopichand said.

Indeed, India’s sporting world has a glittering look and Gopichand dwelled on it: “The achievements are recognised irrespective of any particular sport. Today, we have big stars in athletics [Neeraj Chopra, Avinash Sable and others], boxer MC Mary Kom, badminton etc. We are a nation that loves its sports achievers. We are celebrating their success. For instance, Sharath Kamal [40] is a phenomenal story.”

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