Coaching daughter Gayatri has made me more sensitive, says Pullela Gopichand

Legendary chief coach puts his money on Satwik-Chirag for gold in Paris Olympics

Pullela Gopichand at Calcutta Sports Journalists Club (photo: CSJC)
Pullela Gopichand at Calcutta Sports Journalists Club (photo: CSJC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The last three Olympics have produced at least one badminton medal for India via Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu – and no prizes for guessing that the common factor behind them was a certain Pullela Gopichand. If one person has to be singled out for spawning a badminton revolution of sorts in the country in the new millennium, it’s got to be the self-effacing chief coach of the national team – and the process only continues for him.  

Saina, Sindhu, H.S. Prannoy, the world-beating doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, Sai Praneeth, Parupalli Kashyap, Srikanth Kidambi, Arundhati Pantawane, Gurusai Datt, Arun Vishnu to daughter Gayatri Gopichand – it’s a Who’s Who of Indian badminton who have come through the turnstiles of the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Gachibowli of Hyderabad. The list boasts of Olympic, Commonwealth and Asian Games medallists, world champions and top-ranked players – but this has not relaxed Gopi’s pursuit for the next hidden talent.

Answering a query from the National Herald at a media interaction in Kolkata on Monday, 4 March, the Dronacharya awardee revealed there has been hardly any slowing down of his intense routine over the last 16 years.

‘’After the pandemic, the academy now opens a little late from 5.30 am and I am always there till 6 pm daily. We are readying six new courts and now Kashyap and a few others are helping me as coaches….but being there on the courts never tires me. It’s the travelling and meetings which often do so,’’ said the former All-England champion with a wry smile.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in action
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in action
(photo: Getty Images)

After a whistlestop visit to Kolkata to mark the launch of sports start-up RevSportz’s Trailblazers 2.0 Conclave, ‘Gopi sir’ flew out to Paris to be present at world No.1 Satwik-Chirag’s campaign in the $ 850,000 Paris Open. The qualification process for the Paris Olympics is on its home stretch on but on current form, he had no qualms in admitting that the hot shot pair stands a very good chance of winning the yellow metal.

‘’It would be fair to say that as the world No.1 today, they are definitely a prospect to win at the highest level. They are a solid pair, whenever they step on the court, they are one of the favourites. Months away today, if I have to pick across sports, across countries, any one pair which is the one to beat at the Olympics, it will have to be Satwik and Chirag.’’

The recent form of Sindhu, who seemed to have arrested a slide in form to help India win a historic gold at the Badminton Asia Team Championships last month, has brought a sense of hope in her mentor.  ‘’Sindhu has delivered in the past, she has two Olympic medals. She has age on her side. Of course, she can do it,’’ felt Gopichand.

While there are a number of others who are pushing for tickets to Paris, like the Asian Games bronze medallist Prannoy in men’s singles and Lakshya Sen or the women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponappa and Tanisha Crasto – it’s almost a given that any realistic medal hopes rest on the shoulders of the men’s doubles pair and the experienced Sindhu. ‘’She (Sindhu) definitely has good competition against players like An Se Young (Korean world No.1), Chen Yu Fei (Chinese No.2) or Akane Yamaguchi (Japan’s world No.4). But she has delivered in the past and the potential to deliver this time around in Paris as well,’’ he analysed.

Always known to be a strict disciplinarian as a coach, has this ethos changed in recent years while bringing up his daughter Gayatri? ‘’Well, I see all my students as a son or daughter and I can be quite strict with them. I don’t differentiate but to be honest, I am super proud of what she has achieved so far. I have no more expectations,’’ Gopi said about her 22-year-old daughter, who is one of the leading doubles players in the country and is also in pursuit of a doubles berth in Paris in the company of Teresa Jolly.

However, Gopichand dropped the guard for once when he said that balancing his roles between a father and coach has possibly made her more sensitive. ‘’I was very unforgiving as a player and coach, but this is where Gayatri may have made a difference. I have learnt to treat win or loss at one plane now,’’ he said.   

Finally, who after Saina and Sindhu? “Anmol Kharb. She is 17 years old, who won gold at the Asia Team Championships and looks the brightest (prospect). In the men’s circuit, we have Lakshya, Priyanshu Rajawat and Prannoy for some time,” the hugely respected Gopichand signed off.   

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