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DELHI: Indian badminton team’s chief coach Pullela Gopichand is very impressed in the manner former world No 1 Lee Chong Wei has comeback after serving a doping ban and dubbed him as one of the toughest contenders for gold medal in this year’s Rio Olympics.
The 33-year-old star shuttler was handed out an eight-month ban in April last year for a doping violation after traces of a banned substance were found in his system.
However, he made a brilliant comeback into the international circuit with victories at the US Open, Canada Open, French Open, China Open and a silver at World Championships.
“He has been an amazing sportsperson. He has the highest quality fitness, concentration and a great ambassador of the sports. It’s unfortunate whatever happened to him but that created a window, wherein a few other players benefitted. He has always been strong. He had his problems against a few top players in the world (from China) but other than that, he has ruled the world badminton in the last few years,” Gopichand said.
“He will be someone who will be really difficult to beat because of his pure speed and sting in his strokes that makes him very very effective.”
“I have a great lot of respect for someone like Cheng Long. He is a fantastic individual, with whatever he has he maximizes it. He goes back and comes back very strongly in terms of his physical and mental preparations. So I wouldn’t rule out somebody like Cheng Long ever,” he said.
“Lin Dan is the big match player and Lee Chong Wei has always tripped at the last hurdle. So I think they have the experience and grit on their side and Lee has the desire to win the big match. All three make it difficult for other players. Both Cheng Long and Lin Dan are the players to beat and they are not going to give it easy to him.
“Conditions and preparations make a lot of difference. I think a fully fit and focused Lee is a handful to everybody. It is not going to be easy unless you are prepared to beat him because he has got that consistency where you really need to break him.”
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“I think it was a great match. Srikanth was fired up and aggressive but I think it is important that he has to be consistent. In the life of a sports person, I think a win is not the end of it or a loss is the end of it. So I think he just needs to get this head down and fight,” Gopichand said.
“I think the pressure here is far more because of the format, as there are a lot of people who are passionate, the coach, the owners and the money which is paid. So it makes it a lot of pressure and it is helpful to players,” he added.
India is likely to field its biggest ever badminton contingent at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and Gopichand said his wards will look at each tournament from now on as a preparation for the Games.
“I think it is a little premature to talk about Olympics at this point because the Olympic qualification is still on. There are quite a few big events and each player will go about preparing for those in a way as if that is the Olympics. Whether it is India Super Series, Asian Championship, All England. So they will really go after these tournaments.
“I have to ensure that they have the best progression for the Olympics,” he said.
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The Chinese women players lost their dominance in world badminton in the last one year as Spain’s Carolina Marin and India’s Saina Nehwal achieved the World No. 1 and 2. Gopichand said the Chinese will find it difficult to regain that dominance as many players with varied styles have become more stronger.
“Whatever the Chinese have done have not worked and a lot of players have figured them out. So they have not been able to get a comprehensive strategy for everybody. Earlier, they used to win on fitness but now others have also become fitter and stronger.
“It won’t be easy to crack them because they are very diverse, one is from Japan, one from India, one from Spain so there are different styles. So they will find it difficult,” he said.
Asked if players are finding it difficult to match Carolina Marin’s speed, Gopichand said: “It is not difficult to match. I think when a player is winning, it feels like it is difficult to match. I think adaptability is the key. Our players also have the speed and it is about how they negate the speed. She for the moment seems good but we have also seen that she can be vulnerable,” Gopi signed off.
Gopi also praised veteran Dan and reminded how Lee always lost big finals to the champion Chinese.