Pullela Gopichand is pleased as punch. The performance of his protege PV Sindhu at the Worlds has not only warmed the hearts of badminton lovers, but also put him in the bracket of top coaches in world badminton.
A firm believer in the Chinese model, which lays emphasis on fitness, discipline and long term planning, Gopichand has the unique distinction of grooming a long list of world class players like Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth (Thailand Open Grand Prix winner), HS Prannoy, Sai Praneeth and others.
Being one of the most decorated sportspersons in the country, having won the Arjuna Award, Padma Sri and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna during his playing days, Gopichand was rewarded with the Dronacharya Award within a few years after becoming coach. With single-minded devotion, this 39-year-old, who hung up his boots in 2004, has made Hyderabad the nursery of Indian badminton, though part of the credit should also go to his coach SM Arif.
Gopichand had to endure all the pains and hardships as a player. It was a struggle to get a good place for practice and to get quality Yonex shuttles. The 2001 All-England champion had to come up the hard way. “I always wondered why we have to struggle to get a decent place to practise or to get shuttle cocks. This was very much on my mind when I was playing. I travelled to other places and I was impressed with their coaching system. There was planning and some system. This is the reason why countries like China churn out champions,” he said.
Gopichand realised that to achieve his dream he had to take bold steps to beat the Indian system. “It is no use blaming others. So the best way is to find a solution yourself. I realised that starting an academy on modern lines could be the answer,” he said. The Pullela Gopichand Academy was constructed with an eye on the requirements of a player in today's world. It has eight courts, a swimming pool, a cafeteria and has enough support staff. It is a beehive of activity with more than 70 to 80 players practising everyday.
“I do a lot of homework. I work on various aspects of a trainee. It is not about playing skills, it is also about fitness, diet, speed and endurance. There is a lot of body mechanics involved in making a good player. I was amazed by the Chinese system and followed some of their work ethics. It has helped me,” he said.
Gopichand sets an example for others. He is at the academy by 4 am and returns home in the evening. He is on the court giving tips and practising with the trainees.“My hands sometimes pain serving to the players,” he said, showing his swollen hand.
Saina believes Gopichand has taken coaching to a new high. “He reads the game very well. I'm very comfortable when he is at the match with me,” said Saina. Kashyap says when Gopichand is around, there is seriousness in practice sessions. “He values time and doesn't waste a single minute. He is always keeping players on their toes. No one can fool around with him," she said.
Gopichand's dream was nearly fulfilled at the 2012 London Olympics and at this World Championship, as Saina and Sindhu made history by winning bronze medals. “I will be the happiest person when a player will win a gold in either the Olympics or Worlds. Till then, it is hard grind.”