Vimal Kumar, Saina Nehwal’s coach, talks about securing the world no. 1 ranking and the journey ahead
The coronation of Saina Nehwal as World No.1 is a watershed in Indian badminton history. The shuttle queen from Hyderabad who turned 25 on March 17, it was perhaps the most memorable birthday of her life. The month saw her add the coveted World No.1 ranking in her illustrious career, which includes world junior championships, and a bronze medal in the London Olympics in 2012. It was a moment of glory and pride for Saina, who called her ascension to the No.1 spot as the proudest moment of her life.
Saina was expected to become the first Indian woman to win the All- England Championship in March. However, she lost to Carolina Marin of Spain in the final. It was huge disappointment but as her coach Vimal Kumar points out, “It often happens to the best and one has to overcome and re-focus.” That is what Saina did a few weeks later at the Indian Open.
Kumar, the former National champion and former National coach took charge as Saina’s coach after she split with long-time coach, Pullela Gopi Chand in Hyderabad and moved to Bengaluru in last September.
Recalling Saina’s All-England final experience, Kumar says, “It had to do with mind. She told me that she could not focus. It is easy for us to sit outside and to try to figure out what would have gone wrong. However, it’s for the player to understand, analyse the flaws and come out of such a loss. Few days later, she said, ‘I am okay now and want to train hard for Indian Open’ and that’s what she did.” Pressure is something that champions undergo and cracking under pressure can happen to best of players.
“I follow tennis and have seen champions such as John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and current stars like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal crack under pressure. Even if a player says ‘I thrive on pressure and have trainers and sports psychologists to help’ they could still lose, buckling under pressure at one time or other. The trick is not to dwell too much and come out of it,” says Kumar.
The fact Saina has climbed to top under his guidance is matter of immense satisfaction for Kumar. The shift from Gopi Chand Academy to PPBA in Bengaluru had a positive effect. “By coming here, she felt mentally free and the change in environment gave a fresh impetus and outlook.”
Does the ascension of Saina to the top spot in the world marks the decline of the Chinese? Kumar disagrees “The fact is that top players from India, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia and Thailand are bridging the gap and are consistently beating the Chinese. What one sees is the rise of other powers in the sport, which was solely dominated by China and that is a healthy sign. However, you cannot rule out a Chinese resurgence.”
Getting to the top is great, but staying there is a tough ask. “It is going to be tough as there are seven to eight players, who would love to take that spot and for Saina, the goal should be to maintain her consistency and prepare well for tournaments. She needs to keep herself in best physical condition for a long haul this season. She is now playing the Malaysian Open and has the World Championship in August, followed by the Asian championship and the Olympics in 2016. Consistency and top class fitness are going to be the key for her.”