Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu and coach Pullela Gopichand were the guests at the latest Express Adda session in Mumbai. Organised by The Indian Express Group, this session had Sindhu and Gopichand talk about badminton, players, PBL, and their respective journeys so far.

Sindhu, who is one of the eighteen women in the Forbes India Celebrity 100 list 2018, has had a phenomenal run internationally. As a part of two World Championship finals, one Olympic final, and several other prestigious tournaments, her performances have helped in tremendous growth of the Indian badminton audience. Her coach, Pullela Gopichand, India’s second All England champ after Prakash Padukone, has been guiding her every step of the way.

“I want Saina to be the best that she can be, Sindhu to be the best of what she can be,” – P Gopichand

When asked about the famous Saina vs Sindhu match, Gopichand said that he only wants the best for both players. “It’s important to keep things in perspective and to ensure that me being with Sindhu and wanting her to develop her game does not mean that it is to beat Saina,” he said.

Talking about her off-court friendship with Spain’s Carolina Marin, Sindhu shared that she shares a great rapport with all players and respects them immensely. “Even though Carolina Marin and I play very aggressively on court, off-court we are very good friends.”

“As juniors, we used to see Saina playing and there’s a lot we have learned looking at all the seniors”

Talking about losses, Sindhu said every player goes to the court with an aim to give one’s best and nothing else. “People keep asking me, when you come to the finals, are you not able to break the jinx, or is something going on in your mind, or when you come to the finals do you feel any pressure? But it’s nothing like that. Sometimes, it’s just something to do with the strokes. Sometimes, I need to learn a lot more. Maybe it’s just a few points that I think that strategy-wise something went wrong. That’s all that’s happening. We just go into the finals thinking that we have to win,” she said. 

On being a top earning player in times of unequal wages and unequal attention

Sindhu, who is one of the top ten highest earning sports players, said it’s taken a long span of time for women to come in all forms of sport. “Women are doing very well in all forms of sports. Speaking for myself, it’s just been a step-by-step journey. I knew that I wanted to play and win matches. That’s all in my mind all the time. Everyday has been a learning process and being at the top at the earnings feels good. However, my main focus is just on badminton.”

PBL and change in the lifestyle of badminton players

Talking about the transition in badminton over the last decade, Gopichand said tournaments like the Premier Badminton League (PBL) have significantly raised the bar for players and offered them a good lifestyle.  “There are a lot of these kids who are playing badminton and they are coming on bikes. But thanks to PBL, tomorrow they will come in cars and have bigger apartments,” he recalled telling an official during the commencement of PBL.

He, however, added that although things have changed, but the depth in which earnings are there are not enough for the sport. “The reality is talent is available all over India, but we need a system and more cash inflow. Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth, Kashyap, we all have worked under the radar. I had a feeling that I need to make these players champions. Today, the results you see have been because of the efforts since 2003. You need time to see such results.”

“The night before the match, I messaged Saina and Sindhu and told them to ensure that at the end of the day the sport wins, the country wins.”

Parents’ support

Talking about the endless support she has received from her parents, Sindhu said they have been with her at every step of the way, in all ups and downs. “When I had an injury in 2015, and there were really few people who believed in me, but my parents were there throughout. My dad tells me that, at the end of the day, he wants to see a smile on my face always.” 

“As a sport, which is not in the limelight, only big events bring us attention”

Gopichand stressed how how extensive marketing has led to sport been taken out of context in a lot of ways. “Merit is important, but excellence is what we should be after. It’s the glory of the sport and the nation which is most important,” he added.

Answering a father’s query on his daughter’s new-found interest in badminton, Sindhu said that, first and foremost, the interest has to develop from within to play any sport for that matter. “You need to enjoy badminton first and have fun playing it. Also, when you start taking it seriously, one has to go all out there and work for it,” she concluded.  
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