As the Parineeti Chopra-led Saina biopic is released in the theatres, there is a book, written by Abhijeet Kulkarni, on the stands called The Gopichand Factor that describes the rise and rise of Indian badminton. The author has devoted a good number of pages to this superstar’s phenomenal achievements in international badminton. Saina was hungry to win on the national and international stage, and it was her success that paved the way for the revolution in Indian badminton that we are witnessing now.
As Kulkarni said: “Saina was different. She had the adrenaline in practice. The first session of the day, the second session of the day, the next day, the next week, next tournament.”
The success of Saina, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and others has made badminton easily the mostviewed sport after cricket in the country. As Aparna Popat, the former national champion, said, this book will give several insights into not only what happened to bring India such colossal success in badminton but, more importantly, why and how it happened and also, what can we expect in the future. “….We spoke about potential with lack of belief in ourselves because of an absence of a clear roadmap on how to convert that into a successful system.”
It is a known fact that Prakash Padukone and his All England Championship victory in 1980 had brought about the revolution in badminton in India and Gopichand’s win in 2001 cemented it. “But it is the last decade that saw a definite transformation in Indian badminton — a decade in which Gopichand moved into coaching with his eponymous academy in Hyderabad.’’
According to Kulkarni, when Padukone won the All England, it was considered to be the most prestigious tournament in the entire calendar, given the history of the tournament and the tag of it being the unofficial World Championship, though the world body had begun its official World Championship in 1977. “But he will beremembered in badminton’s Hall of Fame for becoming the first Indian All England champion in…” In 2001, Gopichand’s All-England triumph further galvanised the interest of fans and the government. “Gopichand’s entire badminton career had been built around his ability to push his mind and body to the limits and the self-belief that anything was possible if he worked hard enough to match the work’s best in strength, fitness and skills,” says Kulkarni in the book.
As a player, Gopichand would stay ahead of competition and prepare for bigger challenges. He would get to the stadium an hour earlier, to work on his physical conditioning. The author says his hermit-like style of living became a trademark of Gopichand. Young Saina was a dream come true for any coach and the perfect fit for Gopichand’s philosophy of high intensity training when she joined the former’s All England champion’s academy.
After Saina, it was PV Sindhu who took the world by storm. “Gopichand would call Sindhu an all-show player who could cope with multiple training sessions in the day.” Although Sindhu hasn’t been so consistent on BWF tour, she became a World champion in 2019, brought the firstever silver medal in the Rio Olympics in 2016. Gopichand had meticulously worked on Sindhu’s strength and stamina.