As Anmol Kharb was mobbed by her teammates after India’s 2024 Badminton Asia Team Championships triumph last month, the cameras briefly captured head coach Pullela Gopichand warmly embracing another member of the Indian coaching staff.

That individual, six-foot-tall with beard and wide grin on his face joined the players in the festivities soon after. That was all the screen time Arun Vishnu had. He was nowhere to be seen as the Indians were presented their medals and trophy on the podium.

Vishnu, however, is no stranger to orchestrating such big wins in Indian badminton – all while working silently in the backdrop. The 35-year-old former India international has been working with Gopichand since he turned to coaching just after winning the 2016 mixed doubles national title alongside Aparna Balan.

He was a part of the support staff that coached the silver-medal-winning Indian team at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and also played a vital role in the country’s 2018 and 2022 Asian Games campaigns. He was also around during India’s first medal win at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships last year.

“Coaching was always a part of the plan,” said Vishnu in a conversation with Scroll at the side-lines of the 2024 India Open earlier this year.

“In my life, I have played so much that if you tell me to go and sit in an office, I can’t do that. I have tried it and it is not easy. All the knowledge I have is in badminton and it comes naturally.”

Vishnu started his coaching career training the junior players at the Gopichand Academy in 2016. For the next couple years, he oversaw the coaching of around 30 young shuttlers in the academy, travelling as a coach to various tournaments like the Badminton Junior World Championships among others.

Among his protégés in the junior batch were the likes of Gayatri Gopichand, Treesa Jolly, Tanisha Crasto and Rutaparna Panda to name a few.

As the youngsters graduated to the senior level, Vishnu too was promoted with more responsibilities. He currently oversees the country’s top two women’s doubles pairs – Treesa -Gayatri and Ashwini Ponnappa-Crasto to go alongside the mixed doubles pair of Crasto and Dhruv Kapila.

In fact, Vishnu was widely praised by Crasto for pairing her up with Ponnappa when she spoke to this publication earlier in the year.

“It was when Ashwini and Sikki [Reddy] were playing together and Tanisha was with Shruti [Mishra] but neither pair were doing good,” Vishnu recalled. “I just felt why not pair up Ashwini with Tanisha and see.

“The thought process was Ashwini is experienced and she can help Tanisha a lot. Ashwini is good from behind with her attack and Tanisha is equally good at the net.”

The move worked wonders as Ponnappa and Crasto reached world No 20 rank earlier in the year and are well placed to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In fact, under Vishnu’s guidance India has two women’s doubles pairs – Treesa-Gayatri, Ponnappa-Crasto – in the top 25 world rankings, which is an unprecedented achievement for the country.

Both the pairs and are also locked in a tense battle as the race to the Paris Olympics intensifies.

The two pairs have faced off thrice in the World Tour circuit so far, with Treesa and Gayatri winning the two matches played this year, including the one at the 2024 French Open last week.

Ponnappa and Crasto, meanwhile had won the contest at the Syed Modi India International late last year.

“Both the pairs are very dear to me,” Vishnu said.

“The players are obviously under pressure but we try to not to think of it. Whoever qualifies, we are fine with that.”

Vishnu’s main focus, however, remains in helping the teams break into the top 15 world rankings by the end of the year.

“Treesa-Gayatri broke into top 30 within a year of playing in the circuit, so did Ashwini-Tanisha,” said Vishnu. “There is a big difference from world No 16 to above. We have to consistently beat the top eight ranked pairs.”

A usually calm figure in the sidelines who quietly goes about his business, Vishnu credits the men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty for the rise of doubles badminton in India and making his job easier as a coach.

“Earlier when I used to play, nobody expected anything from the doubles players,” Vishnu said, laughing.

“However with Satwik-Chirag, there’s a lot of expectations with them reaching world No 1. Even the youngsters now dream of replicating that and it has inspired the women’s doubles pairs too.”

Vishnu has come a long way since giving up the racquet due to lack of funds to travel, to now leading the charge from the sidelines for Indian badminton. His time at the courtside during matches, where he is often spotted in the chair alongside Gopichand is something which he cherishes the most.

“All of us [coaches] want to be like Gopi sir,” smiled Vishnu.

“I have learnt a lot from him and Mathias Boe [men’s doubles coach] just by sitting together or watching, assisting them. This is not an experience that I would trade for any office job.”

As the shuttlers take all the limelight for their exploits on court, Vishnu is content with remaining in the backdrop. After all, it’s his work in the background that makes him one of the indispensable figures in helping Indian badminton reach greater heights.