NEW DELHI: Whenever we talk about Saina Nehwal, it is inevitable that one brings up current coach Vimal Kumar’s name. Even her coach of yesteryear Pullela Gopichand gets a strong mention oft-times. But rarely do we hear about Umendra Rana, the person who has also been doing a key service in the Hyderabad shuttler’s career.
A Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach, Rana (inset) has been associated with Saina for quite a few years now, ever since her days in the Gopichand Academy. Now, he is her sparring partner and the assistant coach too.
In fact, Rana is her go-to guy at present. His role with the ace shuttler becomes all the more important as he is the one who puts in tireless hours behind the scenes, just to ensure that Saina gets the right kind match practice under demanding situations. Whenever Vimal is not travelling with her, the 29-year-old is the one who guides Saina from her corner during the matches too.
“I was with Saina at the Gopichand Academy for some time. Then she moved to Bengaluru, and there also we were associated. I have known her for a long time, and I can guide her well if the situation demands.
“Whatever strategies we formulate for Saina, my role is to implement them. I have to create different kinds of match situations for her and give her skill training. Basically, it’s very detailed work that I have to do with her.
Also, when Vimal (sir) is not around, I don the role of the coach and guide her during matches,” Rana told Express after Saina’s practice session at the Yonex Sunrise India Open 2017. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Rana has played a pivotal role in helping Saina get back on the court once again after her knee injury.
Post latest injury setback, Rana and Vimal have had to churn out a recovery plan for Saina, so that she can rediscover her old prowess.
“Right now we just have to see that Saina does not get injured again. We have to keep an eye on each and every movement of hers. If she is doing something wrong, we have to tell it to her that very moment.
We can’t take any chances with that.” Talking about the preparation that goes into facing the top 10 players in the world, Rana said, “There is no separate preparation for different players. The level of top 10 players is the same. We just try and concentrate on Saina’s strengths, rather than her opponents’.”
Rana sounded optimistic about the World No 9’s chances in the ongoing India Open Superseries. He thinks if Saina sticks to the plans, she has good chances of winning. “We have a certain plan for the tournament. If she follows the strategy, she can fancy chances of winning. Saina’s performance in the All England gave her a lot of confidence,” Rana concluded.