Saina Nehwal should focus more on mental strength: Prakash Padukone

Badminton legend Prakash Padukone says that in order to improve on the mental aspect, which he feels will play a vital role in clinching the gold at 2016 Rio Olympics, top shuttlers Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu should engage the services of a sports psychologist at the earliest.

“I think Olympics is a test of mental character. Whoever is mentally strong will probably win the gold, not just in women’s singles but in any sport. Olympics is a different ball game. You can win all the other tournaments, but if you are mentally not strong you can never win the Olympics,” said Prakash in an interview to PTI here.

“It’s important that you prepare well mentally. I would advise Sindhu and Saina to focus a little more on the mental aspect and, if required, take the help of some sports psychologist, if they feel comfortable. But they should start right now because one month or so (before the Games) won’t help. It would need six to eight months.

“If I was in their place I would probably take the help of a sports psychologist as all other aspects like specialist trainer, physio and coach are being taken care of.

Some people believe, some don’t that it might help. I believe so. Ultimately Olympics is a test of character.

“It does not matter how well you perform the week before or the week after, (but) you have to make sure you reach the peak during the week when the badminton event is happening. It’s extremely difficult to predict who will win.

The difference is so little at that level. Whoever is strong mentally will win the title,” the 1980 All-England men’s single champion emphasised.

Prakash is wary of predicting who, from among the Indian shuttlers, can finish on the podium at the Rio Games, but feels 2012 London Games bronze winner Saina and two-time World Championship bronze medal winner Sindhu have a better chance, having beaten all other top shuttlers at one time or the other.

“We have a good chance, specially in the ladies singles. The top two – Saina and Sindhu – have beaten all the top players at one time or the other. It may not be necessarily in the same tournament; that should happen now,” said the Bengaluru-based Prakash whose academy is into its 21st year of existence now.

“Of course, it won’t be easy as everyone will be trying to peak during that period. It will be a draw of 32 and a lot would depend on the draw too,” added the 60-year-old badminton great.

While not ruling out the chances of men, including senior shuttler Parupalli Kashyap who reached the quarterfinals in London, the former great said that the first priority for them was to qualify for the Rio Games, unlike Saina and Sindhu.

“They have the potential, but whether it happens will depend on them remaining injury-free, trying to reach the peak during that period and having a lot of self-belief. In men’s singles, compared to women’s, it’s a little tougher as they have not beaten all the players.

“It does not mean they don’t have a chance, but it will be tough. This is (also) the best chance we have.

Initially for men, at least, the key for them would be to make sure they qualify before the April 30 cut-off. May be one or two may qualify. For women that issue is not there. For men, it’s still open.

“It could be a toss up between K Srikkanth, P Kashyap, who is injured now, (H S) Prannoy and Ajay Jayaram, two (among these) have a good chance to qualify (for Rio Games),” said the 1978 Commonwealth Games singles champion.

Asked about the women’s doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who have in the past won a bronze medal in the World Championship, Prakash felt the duo has an outside chance to finish on the podium.

“I would say (they have an) outside chance, unless there is drastic improvement. They need to put in a lot more effort in these last eight months. They have a lot more support now. OGQ’s (Olympic Gold Quest, of which he is a co-founder with billiards ace Geet Sethi) support, TOP (Target Olympic Podium) scheme support, a specialist doubles coach etcetera.

“It’s now entirely up to the players. Specially Jwala needs to concentrate a bit more on physical training. On her day she can make a big difference. If she is physically fit it will make a big difference with her height,” said Prakash, who won the National men’s singles title 8 years on the trot.

“They have beaten good players but in the past and not recently. It may be tough, but they have an outside chance.

These are the three medals (we can look for). If we can get in others (men’s and mixed doubles), then it will be a bonus, but it’s not being realistic,” he explained further.

Prakash was also in favour of sending the Indian sports-persons, in badminton and in other disciplines, at least a week prior to the start of their respective events as he feels such a move would maximise their chances of doing well.

“If I was in charge I will send them a week to 10 days before their respective events. At least a week before, for sure. Just to be there in the time zone, recover from the long flight. Just go to the hall, or shooting range, or hockey field or whatever else, five-six times.

“Weather (in August in the southern hemisphere) is not an issue as they have played in winter in other places but time difference and long flight would take one day to recover.

“I hope they just don’t go only 2-3 days before. This event comes once in four years and I don’t want the government to be miserly after spending so much. Compared to what they already have spent over the last four years (in preparations), may be 5 to 600 crore, may be 4 or 5 crore extra will have to be spent as only a handful will qualify.

“They should send them one week before their event.

It’s about giving them, not only badminton but all others, a realistic chance to perform to potential. That should be the aim.

“Whether it happens or not is a different issue but the aim should be to rule out uncertainty, provide the best playing facility and prepare properly. And then hope for the best. The chances of getting a medal gets better.

“If they want OGQ will support for the extra 3-4 days’ (stay), but I hope it does not come to that and someone in the (Sports) Ministry will take a call. I would prefer that everyone reaches one week before their event.”


By Adam