Pullella Gopichand sure of Tokyo success despite poor Thailand tour

The national team's chief coach feels the players were rusty in Bangkok.

By Utathya Nag

Pullela Gopichand remains confident that the poor showing at the Thailand events won’t afflict PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and other premier Indian badminton players’ bid to qualify and succeed at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Pullela Gopichand is a former All England champion and currently serves as the chief coach of India’s national badminton team.

With badminton returning last month with the two Thailand Opens and the BWF World Tour Finals in Bangkok, Indian shuttlers found it difficult to get going and returned empty-handed.

“The results were not encouraging. But this particular Indian team had to be in quarantine and was declared ‘high risk’. That meant the players didn’t have enough chance to train in the gym and on the courts,” Gopichand told The Hindu.

Heading into the first Thailand Open, Saina Nehwal and HS Prannoy tested positive for the coronavirus. Though these turned out to be false positives, their matches were rescheduled and Indian support staff were restricted.

During the second Thailand Open, B Sai Praneeth tested positive, forcing his roommate Kidambi Srikanth to pull out of the tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. However, Sai’s result too was a false alarm.

At the BWF World Tour Finals, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth – the only two Indians who qualified for the event – failed to progress beyond the group stage. Gopichand put it down to rustiness.

Gopichand, however, noted that the doubles performances put on by Chirag Shetty, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa, despite the looming uncertainty, were heartening. Satwiksairaj and Ashwini, in fact, jumped to a career-best 19th place in the badminton rankings.

The 47-year-old Gopichand also reiterated his confidence in the training system which has been in place over the past few years, which helped the likes of PV Sindhu win the silver medal at Rio 2016 and Saina Nehwal clinch bronze at London 2012. Parupalli Kashyap, meanwhile, became the first Indian male shuttler to reach the quarter-finals at the London Games.

“We have had great success in previous Olympics because of the training programme. I do believe this time too it will be the same. The qualification is not yet over.

“Once these are done, we will have good time to prepare, and hopefully some good performances can be expected at Tokyo,” Gopichand opined.

The Tokyo Olympics qualification window begins with the Swiss Open from March 2 and ends with the Indian Open in June. The Games will run from July 23 to August 8.