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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The other Gopi in Saina Nehwal's success

Everyone knows P Gopichand’s contribution in Saina Nehwal’s meteoric rise and his role in helping the shuttler’s career get a second wind around 2009.

Saina Nehwal

What is less well-known is the role of another ‘Gopi’ – Gopi Raju – the son of a daily wage labourer from Repalle in Guntur district, in whom Saina found the perfect sparring partner leading up to her moment of glory in London.

In sport, the best of talents often fall short for want of a good training partner. Luckily, the support staff of Gopichand’s Gachibowli academy did not have to scout around the world to find one.Instead, they found a 16-year-old boy from a coastal district right in Andhra Pradesh who ended up playing a role in Saina rediscovering her form. Gopi Raju caught the eye of Gopichand during a state-level tournament. On the lookout for a left-hander, Gopichand knew his search had ended.Raju would be Saina’s left-handed training partner while Gopichand would serve as the right-hander. On the face of it, the move was unsurprising, just part of the many indigenous training methods that Gopichand adopted.The combination worked wonders as the duo used to spend long hours training the world No. 5. And before long Saina broke her lean patch with a hat-trick of titles in June 2010. Raju, 18 now, lives and trains at the academy. For his contribution to Saina’s career, his training and living expenses at the academy are on the house. Raju is now concentrating on doubles and hopes to partner his sparring partner one day.”Saina didi used to treat me like an important player, though I have not achieved anything significant so far. She is so down to earth,” said Raju, who has been Saina’s sparring partner for more than 18 months.Raju is a vital cog in a ‘made in India’ wheel. Apart from the towering influence of Gopi, the support staff includes physio Kiran, fitness coach Chris, video analyst Maqdoom Ahmed and assistant coaches Rajender and Bhaskar Babu, all Indian.When critics went to the extent of saying Saina was wasting her time at Gopichand’s academy, Saina stuck to her guns. As it turned out, the move has paid rich dividends.

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