March 14, 2001

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The Rediff Interview/ Pulella Gopichand

'Once I got through to the final, I knew I would be able to win'

Pulella Gopichand was relaxed and cheerful when he arrived at the Indira Gandhi International airport late on Tuesday night. Back from Birmingham, after winning the prestigious All England badminton title, the 27-year-old Indian champion said it was his ability to stay focussed right through the tournament which paid off.

Revealing the secret of his success, Gopichand, in a brief chat with Onkar Singh and Basharat Peer said he and his coaches -- Prasad Ganguly and Leroy D'Sa -- worked out strategy from match to match, which, in the main, was responsible for his triumph.

"When I left India, I did not expect to win the title, but as we went from game to game, we started developing strategy; the main focus was on the next day's game," he said.

How does it feel to win a prestigious tournament like the All England championships?

I am indeed very happy to have won the All England championships. It is a great moment for me. What makes me feel elated is my game is better than it was ever before. I am doubly thrilled because my victory brought joy to millions of Indian sports lovers.

Which was your toughest match in the tournament?

The toughest match My semi-final round against Peter Gade [Christensen] was the toughest. It was kind of touch and go, with the scores like 17-14 and 17-15 in my favour. But once I got through to the final, I knew I would be able to win.

Even the first round match against Ronald Susilo was also very tough. Though I won the quarter-final match against Ji Xinpeng easily, it was a tough match from my point of view. All the games that I played, in fact, were tough ones, because the cream of badminton players were playing in the tournament.

My game was a couple of notches higher than what I had been playing. The fact that I could keep the level to the same heights right through the week and win all the games makes me feel happy.

When you left India, how confident were you? Did you think you would be able to win the tournament?

I took one step at a time. When I landed up in Birmingham for the championships, I was only thinking of my first round match. Once I won that round, I started thinking of my second round match and so on and so forth. I remained very focussed throughout the tournament. I was able to keep my calm and it helped tremendously.

In the first game of the final you were trailing by a few points. Did it worry you that your opponent had taken the lead?

No, not at all. The strategy for the last match was that I would play the initial points a little slow and try to get a few rallies going so that my opponent got tired. I knew he had a three-game match in the semi-finals and was tired a bit. I had to capitalize on that. I knew that once Chen Hong got tired I would be able to play my shots better and swing the game in my favour.

The strategy worked. I was playing too much at the net, because I knew I had advantage over my opponent in this field. This paid of dividends in the second part of the first game.

The first Indian champion in 21 years Chen Hong had a lower ranking than you in the tournament. Did it help in the final?

What mattered most was that I was playing well. When you are playing a tournament like the All England championships the ranking does not matter much because all those who come to take part in the tournament are the best in the world.

Will you have a go at the World championships?

Of course, but this will be another tournament. This [All England] tournament has been tough for me, both mentally as well as physically. I will try to come back and play well at the World championships.

Did it help to have received coaching from Prakash Padukone?

Of course, it helped a lot in improving my game. Training under him was of tremendous help. Also, the training under my coaches Prasad Ganguly and Leroy D'Sa helped a lot. The fact that the Indian team was completely behind me gave me a feeling of reassurance.

What are your plans next?

The way I am playing now, I would like to take part in few more tournaments; but, I guess, my mother would not like that.

Are you happy with the kind of reception you got from the media and friends?

I am more than happy; that is all I can say at the moment.

A feather in the cap


Mail Sports Editor