HYDERABAD: The Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy is gearing up for something big. One of its most illustrious proteges, PV Sindhu, is coming back with something that athletes dream of when they take their first few steps in sports.If the 2016 Olympic silver was a big achievement for the Indian badminton fraternity, the gold Sindhu won at the World Championships on Sunday trumps that. It is a culmination of a process started about 14 years ago when a 10-year-old joined the academy. In those days, the academy used to operate out of Gachibowli Stadium. The colossal current facility was inaugurated in 2008.
No one at the academy thought this kid would go on to do something that looked impossible. “When she joined, she was just like any other trainee. At that age, it is difficult to understand that a youngster will go on to do something remarkable,” academy head coach Rajendra Kumar told this newspaper. Kumar has been looking after the trainees since 2004, when the academy became operational for the first time.
The coach remembers Sindhu used to struggle in the early years. Her career took a different turn when she started growing tall. “Until about 14 years of age, she used to suffer defeats against the top players of her age group quite regularly. That changed when she got tall. The same players were now finding it difficult to get past her. She always had that built of an athlete,” Kumar said.
Cut to the present, her consistently dominant performance at the World Championships could be attributed to a better fitness level. “Besides working on her defence and concentrating on her natural attacking game, she paid a lot of attention towards maintaining fitness. That was evident in all the matches, as she never looked out of breath,” said Sindhu’s mother P Vijaya, who herself is a former national-level volleyball player.
These days, Sindhu is coached primarily by South Korean Kim Ji Hyun, and the training schedule is designed by chief national coach Gopichand. There are two sessions a day — two-and-a half hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Wednesdays and Saturdays are half days, and Sundays are off. Gopichand is known to keep a strict tab on his students’ eating habits during events.
Other than being a world beater, the other trait in Sindhu that draws attention is her humility. She can be seen chatting with junior players at the academy with the same earnestness as with her fellow shuttlers. “She has not changed even a bit even after achieving so much. She is always jovial and pays attention to everyone,” Kumar said.
Before the tournament began, few imagined she would come back with the top prize, considering the season she was having. Not her mother, though. “She worked hard for this. Her performance was better in the last few months. Skipping Thailand Open just before the Worlds helped. I was confident she would grab the gold this time,” Vijaya concluded. A ruckus awaits the city of pearls when she arrives.