'One-dimensional Chinese' to all-conquering 'Super Dan', Pullela Gopichand remembers Lin Dan's evolution

Gopichand, who was in the last leg of his international career when Lin Dan was coming up as another lightning-quick player from the Chinese stable, played the latter thrice (across 2001 and 2002), and beat him on two occasions.

Shantanu Srivastava July 20, 2020 15:32:27 IST
'One-dimensional Chinese' to all-conquering 'Super Dan', Pullela Gopichand remembers Lin Dan's evolution

New Delhi: India's national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand feels constant evolution and willingness to adapt set the recently-retired Chinese great Lin Dan apart and were among the major reasons for his stupendous success at the international level.

'Super Dan', as Lin was famously called, announced his retirement earlier this month, admitting that physical strain of the modern game was too much to take for his 36-year-old body. The five-time world champion won every major world title in the sport, including back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, making him the only shuttler to achieve the feat.

Gopichand, who was in the last leg of his international career when Lin Dan was coming up as another lightning-quick player from the Chinese stable, played the latter thrice (across 2001 and 2002), and beat him on two occasions.

Their first meeting was at the Singapore Open when the sport was still played in the seven-point format. Lin prevailed in three games 7-5, 1-7, 6-8, but lost their next match in Japan Open 7-3, 3-7, 7-5. By the time Gopi and Lin crossed paths at the 2002 Singapore Open, badminton had moved to the 15-point format, and the Indian got the better of the Chinese in straight games, cruising to a 15-4, 15-2 result.

Gopi remembers Lin as a fairly unidimensional player back then, who would rely on his pace and attack to win most games. Though not as quick on his feet, what worked for the Indian was his sublime deception to which, Lin didn't have many answers.

"When I played him for the first time, he was much younger, and like all other Chinese players of those times, he was extremely fast and powerful. For me, the advantage was that I was very deceptive. So although I lost to him once in a seven-point format in a close match, I think I really dominated him in our next matches. He had no clue what was happening, thanks to my deception," Gopi recalled his meetings with the Chinese legend.

Soon after their three meetings, Gopi hung his boots and moved into coaching, and it was then that he noticed Lin's evolution from a one-trick pony to a genuine world-beater, and the Chinese did it without compromising on his strokes or flair.

"From a skills perspective, he evolved throughout his career. To start with, he was a typically quick Chinese player, but he realised that he was getting caught with a particular style of game. So, he adapted wonderfully. He totally turned his game around to become a player who could control his attack and was very good in defence. He developed a better understanding of the game as years passed by. There were his favourite strokes that were always his great allies. His smash was a lethal weapon that he retained throughout his career. Of course, being a left-hander definitely helped him, and he was good enough to take advantage of that.

"From a physical standpoint, he was much leaner and very quick when he started, but later he grew a lot stronger and developed a game that was all-round. The best part of his career was that he became a much well-rounded player as years progressed," Gopichand remembered.

In his new role, Gopi no longer had to play Lin on the court but instead had to prepare the likes of Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap and HS Prannnoy to take on the unstoppable six-time All England winner. A strategy was devised that entailed attacking Lin on his backhand side, and the plan bore results.

Onedimensional Chinese to allconquering Super Dan Pullela Gopichand remembers Lin Dans evolution

HS Prannoy enjoyed a slight 3-2 advantage in head-to-head battles against Lin Dan. Image credit: AP/File

Prannoy and Srikanth played Lin five times apiece, and while Prannoy leads Lin in their head-to-head record (3-2), Srikanth, owing to his narrow three-game loss at the 2018 Denmark Open, trails the Chinese great 2-3.

Kashyap lost all three of his matches to Lin, although it is worth mentioning that two of his three defeats came in 2011 when Lin was virtually unbeatable, and the third loss, in 2019, was a hotly-contested three-game affair.

"Now that he (Lin Dan) has retired, we can talk about the strategies that we employed against him. We decided to hit across him. He would retrieve, no doubt, but when his defence cracked, it cracked. We had some decent success as all of our players beat him at some point. In the last 3-4 years, he was nowhere near his best; he was just hanging on. His best was perhaps before 2015," said Gopichand.

Lin Dan's great rivalry with Lee Chong Wei captivated fans for close to a decade, and it is hardly surprising that it fascinated Gopi as well, who rates the Malaysian master as a better overall player as compared to Lin.

"I thoroughly enjoyed Lin's rivalry with Lee Chong Wei. To win as many matches and titles as he did when players like Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade were still around is phenomenal. It was a very good time for world badminton to see all these supremely talented players on the circuit. I liked Lee Chong Wei very much, but in head to head encounters, as you know, Lin Dan held a great advantage. Personally, from a game perspective, I think Lee was a better player.

"As much as I miss the times of Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade, I must say that the modern era has some players of serious class as well, whether you talk of Kento Momota and Viktor Axelsen, or our own Indian players. I think there is a lot more variety in this era, and we have good players following them as well," he signed off.

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