Hyderabad: For chief coach Pullela Gopichand the year 2018 was very good as India could win medals in all big events like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Championship and the World Tour finals.
“It was one of the tough and a hectic year but we did make a mark in all the big events and the icing on the cake was (PV) Sindhu’s World Tour Finals title,’’ he said.
And this year, according to Gopichand, qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be their top priority. ”It is a qualification year and we have a bright chance of good number of players from India to qualify to the Tokyo Olympics. I’m hoping that we will send maximum number of representation for the Games.’’
Gopichand expressed his happiness that Sindhu could answer her critics in a fitting way when she triumphed in the World Tour Finals. “For a lot of reasons Sindhu had a very good 2018 but without the win at World Tour Finals, critics would have had doubts and questions marks on her ability to win the final. But she answered that in a fitting way by beating the best players like Okhura, Tai or Yamaguchi. A big monkey was off her back. She will go into the New Year with a renewed confidence.”
On her chances of an All England title, Gopichand said why not? “The All England title is well within her reach. In fact, whenever she plays in any tournaments she enters as one of the favourites to win. Having said that the competition has become very high and there are lots of good players across the world. It is important she remains focused to win big matches in the tournaments. All England would be one tournament which she can win. She is a much matured player now.”
The coach also believes that Saina Nehwal’s marriage with Parupalli Kashyap would not be a distraction but rather she would be a more focused player. “2018 was also a great year for her. She rose to the occasion in big tournaments like CWG, Asian Games and World Championship. She is a fighter. The marriage would not distract her from her game. In fact, she will be more focused now.”
Although Kidambi Srikanth, who won four Super Series titles in 2017, did not have a fruitful 2018, Gopichand believes that the ace player can bounce back strongly this year. “He started off well in PBL. He is a great talent. Although he has not won any titles of late, he has been in a good rhythm. He beat a couple of top players. It is a few like Kento Momota who have troubled him but I’m sure he will get back to his winning ways this year.’’
He also felt that Sameer Verma can make big strides after his heroic show in the World Tour Finals. “He is one player who really showed his potential, especially in the World Tour Finals. He was unlucky to lose in the semifinals. He is a much improved player.”
Pleased with doubles’ performances, Gopichand was hopeful that there would be much better results this year. “Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa as a pair or Saisatwik and Chirag as a pair showed lot of promise. Satwiksairaj and Chirag are jelling into a formidable combination. They are improving consistently.’’
Gopichand signed off by saying the challenge is always there. “With good support from the government and the association, we should have more quality coaches into the system so that we can focus on each player and get good results.”