Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Indian shuttler Gopichand steals crowd support in ABC

JAKARTA (JP): As the only non-Indonesian semifinalist at the prestigious men's single event of the JVC Asian Badminton Championships, Pullela Gopichand of India showed a style all his own and attracted even the host crowd's support.

"I like the crowd here because they are very active. Whether they support me or not is another thing. It's the atmosphere that I like," he said in a postmatch conference after his loss against Indonesia's top seed Taufik Hidayat, 4-15, 12-15.

"The first game was very difficult. Taufik's strokes that I couldn't reach were very fast. I need to improve my speed and move faster," he added.

Born on Nov. 16, 1973, Pullela started to play badminton at the age of 12 in his home town of Hyderabad.

His best career achievement was becoming a finalist in the 1997 Indian Open when he was beaten by Indonesia's Hariyanto Arbi.

Asked about the second game where he could have forced a rubber set, Pullela admitted he was not patient enough to play a slower game which might have brought him luck.

"There were several chances in the second game but I failed to take advantage of them. Perhaps it was my mistake that I wasn't patient enough," he said.

"Besides, both of us are offensive players who want to attack more than engage in defensive play. Playing slow is not my style. I also have to develop my flat game," added Pullela.

For Pullela, it was his second loss to Taufik after being defeated at the semifinals of the 2000 Malaysian Open.

Pullela evokes memories of India's former badminton star in the 1980s Prakash Padukone, who is now running a badminton academy. He joined the academy in 1996.

Being the top player in a country where badminton is not popular poses a problem of its own for Pullela.

"I don't have enough sparring partners so I have to have my training sessions with younger players. This inhibits my skills somehow," he said.

"In the future, I have to take part in as many international tournaments as possible to increase my skills," he said.

Asked if it was a burden to be called the next Prakash, Gopichand said it was an honor for him.

"I'm happy if people call me that as he is a great person. But I think it would be unfair because I am what I am and I don't like comparisons." (nvn)