Rio de Janeiro: When it boils down to matters of discipline, Pullela Gopichand has no peers with PV Sindhu learning it the hard way since her formative years at the legendary coach’s academy.
In pursuit of excellence, there are little pleasures of life that needs to be sacrificed and from Saina Nehwal to Sindhu, Gopi’s theory has never changed.
However on a day when his ward Sindhu etched her name in the Indian sporting history as the first ever woman to win a silver medal, the strict teacher is ready to become an indulgent elder brother.
With ‘Mission Accomplished’, Sindhu can now get back to being another 21-year-old, who would now be able to whatsapp her friends and enjoy her favourite ice-cream. “Sindhu did not have her phone during the last three months. The first thing is I would return her phone. The second thing, after coming here for last 12-13 days, I had deprived her from having sweet curd which she likes most. I also stopped her from eating ice cream. Now she can eat whatever she wants,” an elated Gopi said after Sindhu’s silver winning feat.
Gopi hailed Sindhu’s work ethic during the lead upto the Olympics. “She has had a great last week. The kind of work she has put in the last two months is tremendous. The kind of sacrifices she has made without complaining is fantastic. She deserved to enjoy the moment and that’s what I really wanted her to do. I’m very truly very happy.”
At 21, Sindhu’s journey has just begun and Gopi expects bigger things from one of her favourite students. “Sindhu is much younger. I think she has developed a lot in this tournament. She has a lot of potential to grow further. You should give your best shot. She has done us proud. I’m really happy for her.”
Gopi’s advice to Sindhu has been to think about having won a silver rather than feel disappointed on having missed gold. “I told her don’t think that you lost it. Remember that we have won a medal. I wanted to tell her this to ensure that she does not forget the last week’s effort that she put in to come to second place on the podium.”
“She has done us all proud by the kind of the effort she’s put in. From our side we are happy, I wanted her to enjoy the moment going into the podium. It’s important for me, more than her, that to forget that she lost the match and focus on the fact that she won the medal.”
Although Gopi said that he would have been happier had the national anthem been played at the stadium. “I just wish that our flag had gone one bit higher and our National anthem was played. But having said that, hats off to Sindhu for the kind of effort she’s put in,” he said.
Coming into the tournament as world number 10, the 13th seed Sindhu was a transformed player, even as the poster girl of Indian badminton and London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal made a group stage elimination.
Showing her giant-slaying ability, the two-time World Championship bronze medalist ousted three players ranking better than her en route to the final.
Sindhu first beat world No 8 Tzu Ying Tai in the prequarters, world No 2 Wang Yihan in the last eight and in the semis she breezed past world No 6 Nozomi Okuhara to assure India the first silver in badminton in the Olympics.
Sindhu, who had a 3-4 win-loss record against Marin going into the final, dreamt higher to upset the two-time world champion and she succeeded somehow to wrap the first game from being 13-16 down.
But Marin was far superior from being 10-all in the second game to wrap the issue but Gopichand was all praise for his ward. “To generate that kind of energy going requires something special. She’s been fantastic in all the four matches and she’s fought well in the final as well. I’m very proud of the fact that she gave it all she had. Marin was the better player on the day, Sindhu has learnt a lesson today. Hopefully she will come back stronger the next time.”
An All-England champion who lost in the Olympics quarterfinals in Sydney 2000 to coach two medallists at the Summer Games — bronze through Saina Nehwal London 2012 and now Sindhu going a notch higher with a silver in Rio 2016 — could not have asked for more.
“It’s once in a lifetime. Sometime once in a million time and probably for us once in a billion! Very few times that somebody gets an opportunity to stand on that podium. And for somebody to be a part of that journey is very special,” Gopichand said.
“I’m very happy, very grateful to the God and the people who supported in this journey. I did not have my phone to reply to the best wishes but things like the Prime Minister’s tweet motivates us to push harder. Everyone has given and tried their best at the Olympics, only few of them have won.”
“From our side, we all have tried our best. Hopefully, we will come back stronger and win more but there was no dearth of effort from our side. At this moment, I would really thank the Government of India and SAI for supporting us. It’s a huge effort from a lot of people to get us a medal. I just feel thankful to all of them.”
“We would have loved to get the gold but for her first Olympics and the way she played, I feel very very proud.”
Sindhu may have returned with a silver after getting under the skin of Spanish world No 1 Carolina Marin but her coach Pullela Gopichand said the Indian would be the one to watch out for in future. “She’s not yet played in so many big tournaments and finals to actually make things happen. She’s a strong athlete and will return stronger the next time,” Gopichand said.
“I think Marin played well. She was strong, she kept attacking. Sindhu had her chances. but at crucial time Marin played better.”
Asked what was he telling Sindhu in between the match, he said: “It was just important to get our chances and attack well. She made some simple errors and Marin took the momentum from there.”
“The initially flurry of points that Sindhu lost, finishing the game and changing over I think that needs a little bit of experience,” he added.