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Saina Nehwal’s coach: I never controlled her

By Mohammed Rumman

BANGALORE (April 2)—Saina Nehwal became the first Indian woman shuttler to reach the World No.1 badminton player on Saturday.

She bagged the top spot after Spaniard Carolina Marin was beaten by third-seed RatchanokIntanon of Thailand in the first semifinal of the Indian Open Super Series in Delhi.

In a freewheeling telephonic interview with The SoftCopy,  Saina Nehwal’s coach Vimal Kumar talks about his long association with Saina and the trials and tribulations they saw through before reaching this historical moment.

Saina Nehwal the World No.1 badminton player

The SoftCopy: Saina Nehwal mentioned that you lost weight while ensuring her climb to the World No.1 rank, what is your reaction?

Vinay Kumar: I’ve been on the court with her for long hours and it can be quite tiring.There are multi-section trainings and stroke routine programs for Saina, in the process I have lost weight, and it’s good to see that she highlights this. I have lost around four kilograms.

What was different in her training schedule and what special variations did she inculcate—as she has been in the fray for more than a year?

I encouraged her to try out some different variations because earlier her game had some shortcomings. She used to rely on her opponent’s mistake rather than compel them to commit. I told her that she had to make her opponent work and create opportunities and then finish a rally. Attacking doesn’t mean that you hit from everywhere—you should be controlled in a rally– that is attacking.

She is a very good learner and grasps things fast, too. Also, she was prepared to try out different variations under me. I’m quite impressed.

Did you believe that she will become the World No. 1, someday?

In the year 2006, she was sitting beside me when the then No.1 player of India, AparnaPopat was playing a match against Tracey Hallam and losing. Nehwal told me, “If you give me the opportunity I will beat Hallam.”

When a 15 year-old tells you this, it’s not arrogance—it’s confidence to beat anyone in the world.Soon after that match I told all the coaching staff that I will train Nehwal— the reason was that Popat was injured—the whole staff was taken aback by my decision.But I had an intuition that she would do well and thankfully she didn’t let me down.

Later after several years, when she played against Halam in England—Nehwal beat her convincingly.I always consider her as someone special—sheer determination made her the World No.1. 

What’s the secret of her becoming World No. 1? What was the unique thing about her?

Saina’swork ethics have made her what she is now.The hardships that she had undergone—I think that made her to bag the top spot.

She has gone through a lot of difficulties and I would give credit to her parents. The difficulties which she faced in her life, made her mentally and physically strong.Nehwal is reserved in nature and I helped her to open up, talk to people and gel with them.

Once you get in the fray of top ten then there’s always a possibility of becoming the World No.1. She had become the World No.2 in her career, so No.1 was not that far.

Of course, she had a lean phase since a couple of years and things were not executing according to her standards. But thankfully, she overcame everything and here are the results.

Do you think she is at her peak at the moment and do you see she would continue in the same vein in Rio Olympics?

Yes, of course, she will be 26 in Rio Olympics—between 25 to 28 I think it’s the best age for a badminton player especially Indians—they peak around during that age.

If she can remain fit and not get injured then she will definitely do great there. She should plan her sections properly and enter the tournaments only when she is completely fit.  Also, consistency is one thing, which she should maintain.

Apart from fierce drive and hunger, what do you think, helped her to be the number 1 player of the world?

She is not as gifted as Chinese or Spanish players—Chinese are very skillful and so are Spanish players. They are more gifted than Nehwal in stroke making.  However, Saina is very clever and tactically very good. She understands her opponent very well.

She can be compared to Rafael Nadal, he is not as talented as Roger Federer, but he is intelligent.

Do you see a comparison or parallel between the legendary Prakash Padukone and Saina Nehwal?

Padukone didn’t have the speed or power like the Chinese or Indonesian players. But he had lots of deception in his strokes and his strong area was to bring opponent forward and outsmart them.

He had limitations in fitness aspect, and always played according to a plan.

Nehwal is much fitter and finishes a rally in no time. She has inculcated deception in her strokes but she should execute in tight situations.

She is much more focused and determined—that’s what makes me say she will stayat the top for a long period.

If you compare her previous coach Pullela Gopichand with you, what was the significant difference?

Gopichard prefers a system that is very regimented and followed in China. My coaching is different, I mostly reflecta European style. In Europe, there is no tutoring.Not everything is given on platter—if it does then there is no value for it.

I prefer to coach in the combination of Asian and European methods. I would encourage the player to take responsibility for both poor and good performances. I help her to overcome a loss and make sure that it doesn’t affect her.Both methods have their own merits and demerits.

How do you think your comfort level with Saina has benefited her in comparison to her training under the previous coach? Did you impose anything on her?

No, I have not imposed anything as such. She knows me very well.  I don’t talk much on the negativity which she went through, and I don’t dwell or poke her on it.

If she is hurt in anyway, I will help her to forget that and for example recently she lost the match in finals in England—she was terribly hurt but I helped her to move forward.

For every coach, there’s a player and coach relationship, which is extremely important.  I always leave the decision to her whether she wants to enter or drop a tournament. I have not compelled her to do anything as that would bring in more negativity. Eventually, it is her physique that suffers.
She is not a 15 year-old girl at whom Icanshout and get things done. That way, things don’t work.

If there’s anyone who can replace Nehwal—who would that be, and why?

Definitely it will be Sindhuwho is younger and has beaten quite a few players.  At the moment she is injured but she is one promising young talent who can represent the country after Nehwal.

However, Sindhu is not as mature as Nehwal, and even in terms of temperament, she needs to improve.  But currently, Nehwal is at her peak and the best in the world.

 

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Saina Nehwal’s coach: I never controlled her

 

 

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