It was back in April when the services of former South Korean shuttler Kim Ji Hyun were secured to aid PV Sindhu. The 1994 Asian Games gold medallist joined ranks with a team that had been working with the 24-year-old in her pursuit of an elusive gold in the badminton majors.
The target was achieved a fortnight ago as Sindhu became the first Indian player, of any gender, to be crowned world champion. And over the course of her preparation for the event, each member of her team had been given a clear role.
“She’s now concentrating under the guidance of both (Pullela) Gopichand and Kim,” says Sindhu’s father PV Ramana. “On court, Gopi and Kim are discussing and making a plan. Fitness-wise, I’m taking care of it with Srikanth Verma. I’m happy with it.”
From the initial days of her career, Sindhu had been training under Gopichand, who coached her to a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But as the number of quality Indians increased and he was able to give Sindhu less time, Kim was appointed to step into the void. And in her run to her first world title, Sindhu acknowledges Kim’s crucial role.
“It definitely helped a lot because I’ve been training with her for the few months that she’s been here,” Sindhu says. “She had a few changes in her mind and I think that really helped me. We worked on that, of course under the guidance of Gopi sir, and it went very well. I have improved a lot of skills, and I have a lot more to improve.
“You need to come up with something new every time because you know the other players know your game. It’s important to keep changing all the time. So I think (Kim) has helped me one way because every coach has a different mindset and each coach gives their inputs and that is a good advantage for me.”
The smashes and all-out aggression propelled Sindhu through the draw to an eventual 21-7, 21-7 demolition of third seed Nozomi Okuhara in the World Championship final. What Sindhu has to work on, Ramana claims, is her strokes at the net. “She requires to play nearer the net and get more confident in her strokes,” he says.
“The opponents don’t lift for Sindhu because they know she’s a hard smasher. So at the net is where we want her to improve, the net-dribble. If she gets that confidence, and if she’s injury-free, she’ll have a good chance in the coming tournaments.”
Work has already started on the world no. 5 sharpening her net-play.
“She’s doing around four hours in the morning and one-and-a-half hours in the evening on the court with Kim,” Ramana adds. “Every Wednesday and Saturday she plays against the boys – there are lot of youngsters helping her. This is all apart from the fitness work she does.”
Sindhu continues to evolve, but her tactics and skills were on song when she entered the World Championships. En route to the title clash against Okuhara, Sindhu, seeded fifth, had to take care of world no. 2 Chen Yu Fei of China. But it was neither Chen, nor Okuhara – who had beaten Sindhu in the final of the 2017 World Championships – that Ramana was worried about.
It was her quarterfinal clash against the tricky former world no. 1 Tai Tzu-Ying. “I was confident about Chen because she’s not that strong physically. If you keep the shuttle at the baseline, and if the rally goes on for 13-14 shots, Sindhu has a chance to kill the shuttle. Okuhara is short, she’s good in fitness.
That match I was a bit worried,” Ramana says. “But for me, the toughest player was Tai Tzu-Ying. Winning against Tai was crucial. Other players like Okuhara, Chen, (world no. 1) Akane Yamaguchi, the rallies are longer and Sindhu is confident of killing the shuttle. But Tai is a tricky player.”
Getting the gold in her fifth World Championship final has given Sindhu the drive to push forward. And with a new coach in her corner, Ramana sees his daughter developing into an all-round player.
“With Kim coming in now, it takes four to five months to become an overall player,” he says. “But if she gets the confidence, she can become totally polished.”