Will the Padukone switch lift Sindhu's fortunes?
PV Sindhu has been struggling to find her best form and will hope the Indian legend can change that
In 2014, Saina Nehwal stunned the badminton world by making a bold move of shifting base from Hyderabad to Bengaluru. The Olympic medallist ‘split’ with childhood coach Pullela Gopichand and moved to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) to train under U Vimal Kumar.
Criticised initially, the move yielded results which defined the 33-year-old's career. Under Vimal, Saina became a world No.1 — the only Indian female yet, reached the All England Open final and won two World Championship medals (silver and bronze).
Exactly nine years later, compatriot PV Sindhu has made a similar move. She will now train under the great Padukone in the hope of resurrecting her career even as she aims for an unprecedented third consecutive Olympic medal.
Sindhu enjoyed a successful 2022 when she won an Asian Championships bronze, the Swiss Open and Singapore Open titles before claiming the Commonwealth Games gold when she suffered a stress fracture in her left foot that put her out of action for six months.
The return to the circuit has seen her play well below par, suffering exits in the first two rounds of tournaments in 10 of the first 15 tournaments this year. Her ranking too dropped to world No.17 -- the lowest in seven years. The two-time Olympic medallist was just not being able to keep pace with the best in the business.
With results not going her way, the former world champion parted with coach Park Tae Sang in February and started working with Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) Vidhi Chaudhary before finally hiring former All England champion Muhammad Hafiz Hashim as her coach in July.
But a couple of months later Sindhu also started visiting PPBA, taking tips from Padukone himself. The visits became more regular with the 28-year-old finally unveiling Padukone as her mentor last week, ‘the change-maker I needed to shake things up’.
“She will benefit from his common sense approach and general calmness,” said Anup Sridhar, former India international and current coach of Lakshya Sen. Anup knows Padukone’s training methods inside out, having trained at the PPBA from 1994 to 2012 before retiring and starting his own academy.
“Since he has played at the highest level, he is a very good judge of what a player is going through and is very insightful too. He can usually take a quick look at a player and figure out what the player needs to work on,” Anup said from Shenzhen. “For me personally, especially during some very tough times, I found Prakash sir very easy to talk to.”
It will be interesting to see how the Sindhu-Padukone partnership pans out in the time to come. Sindhu, at her best, is an aggressive player who uses her height to reach all corners of the court. Padukone, on the other hand, was never a big smasher but was one of the finest players at the net.
Padukone stayed calm and composed on court, virtues his proteges – Sen, Indonesia Masters winner Kiran George, current national champion Mithun Manjunath – have also inherited from the master. It is no coincidence that Commonwealth Games champion Sen is one of the finest players at the net on the circuit.
“Prakash sir doesn't want a flashy game. He is old school, sticks to the basics. He wants players to keep good length, give good drops, hit those regular half smashes, emphasises good net play and also explains details of mastering dribbles. He keeps telling his students to try as many net chords as possible. Even now when he visits the academy and sees players dribbling at the net, he just stands and likes to watch good dribbling,” said former India international Sagar Chopda, who trained at PPBA from 2007 to 2011 and started coaching at the academy in 2017.
Sen too was struggling with form earlier this year after returning from a deviated nasal septum surgery. It was Padukone who hit the court to help Sen improve his corner work and dribbling. Result: Sen won the Canada Open two weeks later in July.
“He has the champion's eye. It is the same with Gopichand. They keep things very simple and tell you to do things that you forget at times when you try to focus into other details and complicate things. They tell you to get the basics right. You can see (what’s wrong) but don’t know what you need to do. The inputs are very valuable even if he speaks to you only for 15 minutes," says Chopda.
Chopda gives the example of his ward, Kiran, who was struggling with form, losing in the early rounds regularly before he had a long chat with Padukone. “When I hit the rough patch and just wasn’t able to pull out performances, he asked me to focus on the basics like just keeping the shuttle in play, making less mistakes, prolonging rallies,” said Kiran, who in the span of a month after that chat with Padukone ended up winning the Indonesia Masters in September.
What about Hafiz Hashim?
With Padukone coming on board begs the question about Hafiz Hashim, who Sindhu hired in July. The Malaysian is an employee of the Suchita Badminton Academy and whether his employers allow him to go another academy that too in a different city remains to be seen.
Sindhu is also not taking the services of long-time physiotherapist Evangeline Duggu, who is also an employee of Suchitra academy in Hyderabad, now hiring the services of Zeinia Samar.