The current chief coach of the national team has worked with both of India’s badminton superstars from a young age and he recently revealed how the two were at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to emotion.
“Sindhu was weak at things like shouting (after points), and arrogance. So, I had to teach her to do that,” Pullela Gopichand told Firstpost in an interview.
“With Saina, I didn't need to teach her to find the arrogance or the anger inside, to pump her up was never an issue. When she would be pumped up, she would only smash, not even toss the shuttle, so I needed her to relax at times.”
The importance of ‘arrogance’
While the word generally has a negative connotation in common parlance, Pullela Gopichand believed that it helped with having mental strength, which is why he focused on that specific aspect with his proteges.
“You need on-court arrogance to challenge someone who's above your weight class. You have to have that cockiness, that arrogance, that pride, that feeling of hurt when you lose,” he explained.
Pullela Gopichand was a formidable player himself, winning the All England Open in 2001, which made him only the second Indian badminton player to do so after Prakash Padukone.
A series of injuries derailed his career, but he had learnt enough from it to apply certain methods to his coaching manual, something to change the notion of Indian badminton players not being ‘attacking’ enough.
“I had some three surgeries in the years leading up to the All England title but despite that, I was a rugged player who would jump and dive around for the shuttle. I realised that that's the way Indians need to play,” he noted in the interview.
Identifying the areas of strength and combining it with the belief of being as good as the world’s best is what helped Indian badminton evolve to this level, he believed.
“We needed to be fast and do a lot of physical work on the court. If you see the current generation, be it Saina or Sindhu, they're very physical players.”