National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand backed the reigning world champion PV Sindhu to shrug off her indifferent form and praised the fast-rising Lakshya Sen as he reflected on a tough season for Indian badminton ahead of an Olympic year.

“We have had some not so good results so it is obvious that we need to buck up and get better,” Gopichand said at the launch of Badminton Gurukul in Mumbai.

“It’s just ending up they are playing tournaments after tournaments so there has hardly been any time for preparation. Having said that, I think sooner or later we have to ensure that people get back on track and start preparing,” the 46-year-old added.

With the Olympic qualification period for Tokyo 2020 on till April next year, several Indians, especially in men’s singles, have a chance to make the final cut.

“I think May June, July will be the key months for preparation. But hopefully we’ll have a big contingent getting in and qualifying whether it’s men’s singles or women singles or doubles, I think especially with the format of the Olympics, whoever qualifies has a chance in Tokyo,” he said.

In women’s singles, all eyes will be on 2016 silver medallist PV Sindhu, with the expectations only rising after she became the first Indian to win a world title in August this year.

However, ever since the big title she has suffered a dip in form with just six wins from the seven tournaments after becoming the world champion.

The 24-year-old will now need to mount an extra-strenuous effort to peak at the right time and her coach is confident she can surmount it.

“I think she is too good a player to not come good. Yes, the results haven’t been there but we will turn it back. We need to make some changes and we will get her back,” he said.

Sen’s quick rise

He counted both Sindhu and Saina Nehwal as contenders in Tokyo, saying that the women’s draw will be more competitive and exciting. “The conditions which Tokyo will play will be important, form will be important. Women’s always has been very exciting, it is more open. Tai Tzu Ying, Ratchanok Intanon, the players from China, Sindhu, Saina… it will be good.”

In the men’s draw, the competition will begin from home itself, with several players in the fray.

“With the Olympic qualification on and with almost eight of them in the top 50 of the men’s singles, everybody thinks they have a chance,” he said. While top-ranked B Sai Praneeth is leading the charge, there are five Indians in the top 30 with young Lakshya Sen closing in at 32.

Gopichand was all praise for 18-year-old Sen who won five titles in 2019, saying he belongs at the highest level with his technique and temperament.

“It’s great because he has done it very quick so far,” the national coach said. “With the ranking system, it’s important that you can get into the 30s as quickly because then you start getting entries in the big events.

“He is right up there, and he will get entries to play the All England and stuff, but I do believe he is someone who belongs at the level. He is young, and with the confidence he has with the strokes he had and the novelty, which I think will be very exciting to see,” Gopichand explained.

In doubles, he hailed the progress of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty as well, saying that their physique gives them quite an edge.

However, the national coach refused to be baited into picking a medal favourite, joking about he was still their coach and won’t discuss that with the media.