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We need to buck up and get better: Gopichand

By G Krishnan
Pullela Gopichand

Mumbai, December 20: Apart from the rise of 18-year-old Lakshya Sen to No.32 in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) men's singles rankings, PV Sindhu emerging as the country's first world champion and Chirag Shetty/ Satwiksairaj Rankireddy winning the first-ever doubles Superseries title, there was hardly any good news for Indian badminton in 2019.

Sindhu's results post her feat in Basel in August have been disappointing, as she made early exits from most of the tournaments.

In men's singles, Kidambi Srikanth has lost his best Indian men's shuttler status to B Sai Praneeth, bronze medallist in the Basel Worlds.

Srikanth's fall

Srikanth's fall

Srikanth is still to find his form that saw him reach the pinnacle of BWF rankings in 2017. Furthermore, he was plagued frequently by injuries.

In this backdrop, Indian badminton needs to buck up as Tokyo Olympics is less than eight months away.

Not-so-good results

Not-so-good results

Chief national coach Pullela Gopichand is aware of the things plaguing top Indian badminton players, but is confident of arresting the slide and preparing the team well for Tokyo 2020.

"We've had some not-so-good results. It's obvious that we need to buck up and get better. With the Olympic qualification on and eight of them in top 50 in men's singles, everybody thinks he has got a chance. They end up playing tournament after tournament after tournament and hardly have any time to prepare," Gopichand said in Mumbai after launching Badminton Gurukul, a coaching development programme across 14 cities in the country.

"Sooner or later, we've to crack that and ensure people start preparing. May-June 2020 will be key months for preparation. Hopefully we'll have big contingent qualifying. Whether it is in men's singles, women's singles or men's doubles, with the way the Olympic format is, whoever qualifies has got chances is what my belief is. And, we'll try and get as many of them in as possible," he added.

Sindhu's travails

Sindhu's travails

About Sindhu, who has slipped to No.6 in BWF rankings, and who did not progress even beyond the group stage in the recent BWF World Tour Finals in Guangzhou, China, Gopichand opined, "She is too good a player to not come good. Having said that, these (recent) results have been bad. We'll turn it back. We need to make some changes and hopefully get her back on track."

Changes, Gopichand knows, is not just for Sindhu. It is for almost every one bound for Tokyo, or having chances of qualifying for the quadrennial extravaganza. Changes in mental strength, technique, skill, fitness, etc.

Guarded optimism

Guarded optimism

Being the chief national coach, Gopichand is guarded against speaking anything negative about his own players. "I've to back my players. We're working on it. There're issues we need to sort out. All of it - skill, technique, mental. In the format, once you slide, there's no time to get back. You're playing one tournament after another. Sindhu came from Basel, one week later goes to China and Korea. Then she goes across to Denmark and France, comes back to play China and Hong Kong, comes back and again goes to China. Nine tournaments in 12 weeks," Gopichand laments.

There is nothing that Gopichand nor anyone can do about the scheduling of BWF calendar. And, it is not just with Indian shuttlers.

Lakshya's progress

Lakshya's progress

Lakshya's progress has been one bright spot. He won four tournaments in Europe from September to November and finished the year with the Bangladesh International Challenge title last week. Gopichand praised the Uttarakhand-born shuttler:

"Lakshya's performance is great. He has done well to come so quickly so far. With ranking system, it's very important to get into the 30s, so he gets entries to big tournaments. At 32, he's right up there and will get entries to All England and stuff like that. I do believe he's one who belongs at that level. He's young, with the confidence he has, with the strokes he has, it'll be very exciting to see him progress in the next few months. He's doing the right things and needs to keep going."

Of Chirag-Satwik, Gopichand said: "Theirs is a fantastic rise. Both are young, big and threatening."

(The writer is a freelancer based in Mumbai)

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Story first published: Friday, December 20, 2019, 11:13 [IST]
Other articles published on Dec 20, 2019
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