Badminton
Badminton guru Pullela Gopichand is flanked by two of his most decorated students P.V.Sindhu (left) and Saina Nehwal. Image Credit: IANS

Dubai: The countdown has begun for the Tokyo Olympics and much like Rio four years earlier, the level of expectations will gradually rise from the top two Indian women in badminton: world champion P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal.

Pullela Gopichand, the Dronacharya of Indian badminton who had been managing their egos for several years now, is ready to do it one more time in the hope of seeing both his proteges’ names among the medallists again.

“We will have to deal with all of this (read: the egos of the two super achievers) for the country. India needs both Saina and Sindhu and both are capable of winning medals in Tokyo. Both deserve the best and I am committed to giving them both the best guidance I can,” he says in an interview in a forthcoming book suitably titled: ‘Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games.’

In the book, Gopichand — only the second Indian to win the All England men’s crown after the legendary Prakash Padukone — has provided a rare insight to the often uneasy relationship between the two poster girls of Indian sport in the last decade, his own deep sense of hurt when Nehwal left his academy to move to Bengaluru and what goes into the making of these two champions.

Co-authored by sports historian Boria Majumdar and journalist Nalin Mehta, the book delves deep into what makes Gopichand arguably the most successful Indian coach in the field of individual sport — churning out an assembly line of world class medallists. The journey had not been an easy one, involving a tremendous saga of selflessness and commitment, but managing the two woman also took a lot out of him.

How difficult was it to accept Nehwal back in his fold in 2017 after the breakdown in relationship?

“Yes, it was difficult. By this time Sindhu had become who she is now, but Saina is someone I can never say no to. It was complicated. I have always believed that these two players were the best Indian badminton has seen in decades, and as their coach, I have equal responsibility for both of them. Once she said to me she wanted to come back, I didn’t have it in me to say no to her,” he reflects in the book, the script of which was made available to Gulf News.

However, trouble began when within a year of Nehwal’s return in Gopichand’s fold, she and Sindhu found themselves facing off in the final of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast. The tension was unbearable for their coach and mentor — who admittedly did not watch the match till the last few points — and Nehwal showed her famous resilience by prevailing in the final.

The cold vibes were back and the book says that soon after coming back from Australia, “Gopi had no choice but to train the two players in separate academies so that they weren’t exposed to each other’s training routines.” Better sense apparently prevailed later and Sindhu went back to train at the SAI Gopichand Academy after sometime to train along with Nehwal and other leading lights of Indian badminton.

The book, which starts off with a chapter on the impact created by the trio of Sindhu, wrestler Sakshi Malik and gymnast Deepa Karmakar after Rio, traces India’s journey in the Olympics at length. Published by Harper Collins, it’s scheduled to be released on January 20.