Olympics: 'Operation Saina' is a 'Made in China' product
At Saina's matches, as many as twenty different Chinese coaches and assistant coaches keep vigil, watching from different angles, taking notes and planning individual strategies.
By T S Sudhir
He wasn't heading home to take a lunch break. There was no player at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy but India's national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand was busy working on his iPad, the lights in his room switched off. In two weeks, he and his wards would board the flight to London for the Olympics.
Planning is Gopi's strength. And he has been at it for a very long time. Perhaps since 2000 when he lost in the pre-quarters at the Sydney Olympics and vowed to create an Olympic champion from India.
Sample this. Last year, the world championship was held in London at the Wembley Arena, the same venue where the Olympics will be held this month. The moment Gopi saw that the Wembley Arena was a 90-minute drive from the Olympics Games village, he booked his team a year in advance into the Wembley Plaza hotel, located nearby. His only worry now is to ensure physio Kiran gets his accreditation at the London Olympics so that he is able to assist the players. In the worst case scenario, Kiran will do the same without entering the Wembley Arena.
June was good. Saina Nehwal, India's big medal hope in badminton, won two titles in a row - the Thailand Open and Indonesia Open. More importantly, she got the better of her Chinese opponents in Jakarta. Parupalli Kashyap, India's entry in men's singles, defeated top seed Chen Long at the Indonesia Open and could be the dark horse provided he is not erratic and is able to maintain his momentum. And that afternoon, Gopi was all smiles as he shared the news of P V Sindhu's victory at the under-19 Badminton Youth Asia championship in South Korea. Sindhu, who stands tall at 5'11'' feet, is touted as the next Saina from India.
Life's good, Gopi may think but then the very next moment, he thinks of the Chinese. He knows a lot would have taken place in Beijing in the past fortnight, after the demolition of the Chinese by Saina at the Indonesia Open. The Chinese have their unique way of preparing for Saina, who is the top non-Chinese player in the world today.
At Saina's matches, as many as twenty different Chinese coaches and assistant coaches keep vigil, watching from different angles, taking notes and planning individual strategies. All this data is then the ammunition for the main Chinese coaches who train the top three Chinese players.
'Operation Saina' is essentially a 'Made in China' product.
So in a sense, what Gopichand is doing is to play chess with the Chinese long distance. And many days in advance. Think and think hard of what moves they must be making now and plan his moves accordingly. Gopi has always admired the Chinese system of preparing for a tough rival. He imagines - and not entirely in jest, mind you - that they would have five Chinese `Sainas', who play like her, perhaps even look like her, to prepare the top three, both craft-wise and psychologically to play the champion player from India.
Gopi's best chance is to ensure the Chinese Plan A does not work. He believes if Plan A does not work, the Chinese aren't very good at course correction in the middle of a match.
Another significant positive from the recent tournaments is that Indians are no longer seen as chokers. Both Saina and Kashyap gave it back to the Chinese in good measure at the Indonesia Open and perhaps for the first time, the Indian badminton contingent will not be travelling as tourists to the Olympics.
And the customs officials at the first Indian airport they land on return after August 4 would hope Saina has gold to declare!
T S Sudhir is the author of 'Saina Nehwal: An Inspirational Biography'
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