Paris 2024: From Gopichand to Padukone, Sindhu’s last throw of the dice

The two-time Olympic medallist has changed two coaches in the last five months and has now added the maestro as her mentor

PV Sindhu (back to camera) has been consulting Prakash Padukone since August (photo: @PVSindhu1/X
PV Sindhu (back to camera) has been consulting Prakash Padukone since August (photo: @PVSindhu1/X

Gautam Bhattacharyya

As the whole of India was busy in anticipation of the World Cup final about a week ago, there was an extremely significant news break from badminton diva PV Sindhu on her social media handle. A two-time Olympic medallist, the ace has gone for a last throw of the dice in order to regain her winning touch, announcing that the legendary Prakash Padukone will be her mentor from now on.   

It has been a nightmarish year and more for the former world champion, seeing her cope with injuries and a terrible loss of form leading to her slipping out of the top-10 in the Badminton World Federation rankings for the first time since 2016.

In July, a desperate Sindhu parted ways with Korean coach Park Tae-sang, who had stood alongside her during the Tokyo Olympic bronze, and appointed former All England champion Muhammad Hafiz Hashim, who was also dumped in favour of Indonesian Agus Santoso soon.  

Meanwhile, Sindhu began making occasional trips to Bengaluru from August this year, to pick the brains of the ultimate guru of the sport: Padukone. ‘’Yes, she will be training with me once she completes the rehab. However, I am not in a position to comment on what my exact role will be,’’ Padukone, the former All England and world champion, told National Herald.

The training methods may be classified, but the goal is certainly the Paris Olympics in less than a year’s time, where the former world champion wants to change the colour of her medal. 

Changing coaches is par for the course for top professional athletes like Sindhu, but the latest move will need her to relocate from Hyderabad to Bengaluru, where she has been visiting the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) on and off.

She has now changed coaches twice within the current year, but it’s more than clear that Sindhu is not keen to fall back on the mentor who made her an Olympic medallist in the first place — Pulella Gopichand. 

It was in Gopichand’s academy that a young Sindhu first learned the ropes, first capturing the attention of badminton fans with a bronze as a gawky teenager at the World Championships. However, Sindhu parted ways with Gopichand about three years ago amid reports of a rift, as she moved away from the India chief coach’s academy to the Suchitra Badminton Academy in early 2021 and thanked Park for his role in her Tokyo medal. Speaking during a virtual media interaction after the Tokyo bronze, Sindhu had said: ‘’He (Park) is such a sweet coach and I would like to have him in Paris 2024.’’  

However, an injury lay-off for nearly six months last year and then the confidence crisis came in the way — which saw her exit in the early rounds of most tournaments, barring the Spanish Masters in April. The last few months have seen a marginal improvement though, as the five-time Worlds medalist reached the quarter finals at the Asian Games, and the semi-finals of both the Arctic Open and Denmark Open.

Having dropped to an unprecedented no. 17 in the rankings, Sindhu has made her way back to world no. 11 and wants to take it forward from there. 

Sindhu’s move is reminiscent of former world no. 1 Saina Nehwal shifting base from Hyderabad to Bengaluru in 2014. It was under PPBA head coach Vimal Kumar that Saina achieved world no. 1 status, reached the All England Open final, and became the first Indian to reach the World Championships final — all in 2015. 

It’s the prerogative of an athlete to gauge the benefits of engaging a mentor — and Sindhu seems ecstatic with this new association. “For those wondering and constantly asking me, the cat is finally out of the bag! Prakash sir is assuming the role of the mentor in my set-up. I started training with him at the end of August, and it’s been uphill ever since. He’s more than a mentor; he’s my guide, my guru, and, above all, a true friend,’’ Sindhu said in an X post. 

“I wholeheartedly believe he possesses the magic to bring out the absolute best from my game. I am so grateful he reached out to me with one call when I was in Japan, and we've built on that connection exceptionally well. Dear sir, I am pumped! Looking forward to training with you! Let’s get to work.” 

As long her new move helps her form and Indian badminton, no one is complaining!

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