‘She Feels Almost Like Another Student’

Gayatri Gopichand Pullela has carved out an identity for herself rather quickly. In just over a year, the young Indian has earned a name as a top women’s doubles prospect, with her partnership with Treesa Jolly having taken the spotlight at two consecutive All Englands, where they made back-to-back semifinals.

Her father, India’s head coach and 2001 All England winner Pullela Gopichand, wasn’t courtside at the All England, but he returned to the coach’s chair at the KAPAL API GROUP Indonesia Open 2023 after a long hiatus.

Excerpts from an interview on his daughter and world No.17:

Gayatri has had quite a sensational rise to world No.14 (now 17) in women’s doubles with Jolly. What do you make of her progress?

In general I’m proud of the way she’s playing, the way she’s improved, and the way she’s been disciplined in practice. For me, it’s not very different, because I’ve had a lot of players I’ve taken care of since the time they were young, so she feels almost like another student, so it’s not very different from having another player.

Do you switch from your role as parent to that of coach when you’re on court?

Luckily, I don’t coach them to the point where I have to take care of the difficult decisions, or the discipline part of it. She has Mathias (Boe) or Arun (Vishnu) or Siyadutt or Guru (Sai Dutt), who are part of the team. So I would say I’m more of a parent than coach.

Gopichand in the coach’s chair.

There is of course the natural tendency of being a coach even if you are sitting and watching a fun match, you will be analytical in that sense. So that will always be the case. I’m someone who doesn’t bother about the result as much. You just need to do the right thing and then keep doing the right things and the results will come. I’m not really stressed about a match whether I’m sitting (as coach) or not. So it doesn’t really affect the emotion in any way.

It was rare for elite players to send their children into a professional badminton career. Would you say the sentiment has changed, because there are now several second-generation players at the elite level?

In Gayatri’s case, it was her choice, and I’ve always maintained that it’s okay if you don’t want to play, but she’s the one who wants it more than me, which I’m very happy for.

I look at it this way – by God’s grace to have two from a family to play at the highest level, it’s a lot of grace. It doesn’t happen very easily, even for one in a family to play is big. To have two at this level is phenomenal, wherever she ends up, to be top 15 in the world, I’m absolutely proud of her.

You have experienced Istora Senayan as a player. What does it feel like to be on the coach’s chair while your daughter was playing?

From an experience perspective, this is the best tournament, in terms of the pure emotion of the place, there’s no other place in the world which can beat Indonesia and this stadium. I have great memories from the very beginning, when I was playing, and from when Saina (Nehwal) or (Pusarla V.) Sindhu or (Kidambi) Srikanth won. It’s been a great experience.

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