Saina Nehwal, former world number one continues to battle poor form as she faces successive defeats in international championships, crashing out even in the first rounds of some. The 29 year old ace shuttler’s professional career has been witnessing a free fall since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, where she was beaten straight by a far more low ranked player of Ukraine. She also suffered injuries and had to undergo surgery for the same. Many believe that her current form slump is due to the fact that she has not been able to recover from those injuries.
Pullela Gopichand, India’s chief Badminton coach who also runs the Gopichand Academy at Hyderabad has made some startling revelations in his upcoming book, “Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games”. In a chapter titled ‘Bitter Rivalry’, Gopichand has gone on to express the disappointment and hurt he felt when Saina Nehwal decided to leave his academy and shift to Prakash Padukone’s academy in Bengaluru. After the 2014 World Championship, Nehwal had decided to shift to Padukone Academy to train under Vimal Kumar. “It was as if something very dear was being taken away from me. Earlier, I had literally begged her (Saina) not to go. But by then she had been influenced by others and had already made up her mind. While I didn’t want to hold her back and stall her progress, I knew this was something that wasn’t beneficial for either of us,” Gopichand revealed in the book co-written by sports historian Boria Majumdar and senior journalist Nalin Mehta.
Gopichand also revealed that bitterness between Saina Nehwal and emerging tycoon PV Sindhu was perhaps the sole reason for Nehwal deciding to leave his academy, as she felt sidelined and that Gopi was giving more attention to Sindhu. “Yes, I indeed had other players to look after and Sindhu had made serious progress in the two years between 2012 and 2014. But I had never intended to neglect Saina. May be I wasn’t able to convey this to her,” Gopichand said.
However, this doesn’t just end here. Gopichand feels that Prakash Padukone, Vimal Kumar or Olympic Gold Quest official and former Olympian Viren Rasquinha could have played a role in her decision to shift from Hyderabad to Bengaluru. “May be Viren or Vimal or Prakash sir could have spoken to her. I don’t know why they didn’t. In fact, they encouraged her to leave Hyderabad. It is a mystery to me why Prakash sir has never said anything positive about me while I have always looked up to him as my role model,” said Gopi.
For Gopichand to make such allegations against a Badminton stalwart like Prakash Padukone is indeed a new, more so because Gopichand is known to be a man who doesn’t let his feelings out easily. If true, it would mean that Prakash Padukone and others potentially played the sole role in Saina’s downfall, as her form improving from now onwards seems a very bleak possibility. To their defence, Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy can say that during her time in Bengaluru, Saina became the world number one women’s singles shuttler, won three Superseries titles and reached the finals of world championships and All England Badminton Championships.
Rebutting claims made by Gopichand, the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy put out a statement which said that it was solely Saina’s decision to shift from Gopichand Academy to PPBA. “PPBA did not have any role to play in Saina Nehwal’s decision to move to Bangalore and train at PPBA. However, Vimal Kumar did help Saina in her slump period that saw her attain World No.1 ranking, besides getting silver medal at the All England Championships and World Championships.” It further added, “PPBA has been grooming players over the last 25 years and has always stood for supporting their interest in whatever way we can. We have too many players moving on from our Academy at various stages in their career. We have never believed in restricting their growth, and that will continue to be academy’s policy.”
In 2017, Nehwal resumed training under Gopichand. Parupalli Kashyap, Nehwal’s husband commented on the same and said that her return to Gopichand was not easy. “My wife is a perfect Haryanvi Jatni, if you know what I mean. She is just too headstrong and proud. She desperately wanted to go back to Gopi sir and say sorry. She needed him badly but she was too stubborn to admit it and open to him.”
In all of this, Prakash Padukone’s image indeed takes a hit. Gopichand’s book hits the stands on January 20th, and perhaps there will be more clarity on the issue thereafter.