Even as Saina Nehwal fights pitched battles against the world’s best players, there is an unearthly calm in her corner. Even at the tensest moments, Pullela Gopichand has never betrayed any sign of emotion – there is at once an air of calm about him, the sort of calm that is needed to figure out a constantly evolving puzzle. This was the prime quality Gopi had when he was at his prime as a player – the ability to be clear-headed at intense moments, and it is this quality that comes to the aid of his most talented student.
As Saina returns after yet another victorious campaign, Gopi talks to Dev S Sukumar about his celebrated trainee and his own role in sculpting her success:
Was the Indonesia Open Saina’s best-ever win?
It was a very good win. It’s one of the best she’s won. Overall, it’s a very creditable achievement. The quarterfinal especially, the way she recovered from the second game loss after Shixian saved two match points, and the way she recovered after that long match to win the semifinal and final…
When I’m with her I get involved with everything. There’s a need to do things at the right time. (Physio) Kiran obviously is a big help, but I also monitor everything that she needs to do.
With so much strategy involved, and considering that her opponents are also studying her, how do you keep on top of the game?
There’s a need to be smart. You need to be ahead, and sometimes go by gut feel and intuition. At the end of the day, you need confidence to plan and tell your player to execute a certain strategy. It involves a lot of things. You need to be updated, and need to think of what’s to be done.
Has strategising in today’s game changed much from your playing days?
Back then, I didn’t do it as much. Since I’m on the job now, I’m a lot more focused. Also, I have more time to strategise in between tournaments.
Saina was reported to have lost weight to improve her movement. Was that one reason for her success in Indonesia?
It was a conscious decision taken; continuous improvement is necessary. Saina’s game is different today from what it was a few years ago. It’s important for her to keep getting better and sharper.
Kashyap’s was a brilliant win against Chen Long…
Phenomenal. The way he played, it was very important to be very precise. It’s not that Chen Long is unbeatable. Saina will play at that level for one-and-a-half hours with intensity and not get bored (of training). You’ve to get them to do it when results are coming, and when results are not coming.