Saina Nehwal leaving the stables of Pullela Gopichand was a much-talked about story in Indian badminton circles. Now, in an upcoming book ‘Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games’, the former All-England champion and national head coach Gopichand spoke about the difficult times, also corroborated by Saina’s husband and former CWG gold medallist Parupalli Kashyap.
Gopichand shared his story and wondered why did Saina join Prakash Padukone’s facility, something that rankled him a lot.
In a chapter titled ‘Bitter Rivalry’, Gopichand revealed how miserable he felt when Saina decided to join Padukone’s academy to train under Vimal Kumar in Bengaluru after 2014 World Championship.
“It was as if something very dear was being taken away from me. Earlier, I had literally begged her (Saina) not to go. But by then she had been influenced by others and had already made up her mind. While I didn’t want to hold her back and stall her progress, I knew this was something that wasn’t beneficial for either of us,” Gopichand revealed in the book co-written by sports historian Boria Majumdar and senior journalist Nalin Mehta.
According to the grapevine, Saina’s move was due to the fact that Gopichand was focussing more on PV Sindhu. “Yes, I indeed had other players to look after and Sindhu had made serious progress in the two years between 2012 and 2014. But I had never intended to neglect Saina. May be, I wasn’t able to convey this to her,” Gopi said.
But what hurt him more was the role he felt that Padukone, Vimal or Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) official and former Olympian Viren Rasquinha could have played.
“May be Viren or Vimal or Prakash sir could have spoken to her. I don’t know why they didn’t. In fact, they encouraged her to leave Hyderabad. It is a mystery to me why Prakash sir has never said anything positive about me while I have always looked up to him as my role model,” said Gopi.
In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Saina had a harrowing time where she was knocked out in the fist round and played in the match carrying an injury for which she had to undergo surgery.
“It was clearly the worst phase in her life. She had lost early in the Olympics and it had wasted months and years of hard work. Gopi sir wasn’t with her anymore and she was soon to have surgery to get things back on track… She didn’t really know what to do,” Kashyap recalled the tough times.
“My wife is a perfect Haryanvi Jatni, if you know what I mean. She is just too headstrong and proud. She desperately wanted to go back to Gopi sir and say sorry. She needed him badly but she was too stubborn to admit it and open to him.”
The book published by Harper Collins will hit the stands on January 20.