Played ‘Two’ Perfection – Basel 2019

Wednesday, September 4, 2019
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO

Discerning as they usually are, it’s not often coaches describe their athletes’ performances as “perfect” but, in the aftermath of astounding exploits by their respective players in the finals of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019, Park Joo Bong and Kim Ji Hyun unreservedly summoned that superlative.

Basking in the glory of his prized pupil, Kento Momota’s emphatic retention of the men’s singles title, the mild-mannered Park smiled at the 21-9 21-3 demolition versus Anders Antonsen.

“Yes, it’s perfect!” declared the Japan head coach, himself a five-time world champion.

“During this week, from the first round to the final, Momota was in top form. He prepared very well for this tournament.”

Japan’s head coach Park Joo Bong (right) was thrilled with Kento Momota’s title defence in Basel.

Momota’s blazing success was the pièce de résistance in an excellent showing by Japan’s squad which reached four finals and achieved the country’s best World Championships results: two golds, three silvers and one bronze.

Kim’s sentiments about women’s singles gold medallist, Pusarla V. Sindhu, were identical as she rejoiced at the near-ruthless 21-7 21-7 path which her charge finally cut to the top of the podium in her third straight shot at the title.

“Perfect execution! I was so happy (with) how she played!” exclaimed the beaming coach, credited with sharpening the Indian’s skills and killer instincts.

“I mean, yeah! That’s the way I play when I play against her. I feel over the moon because we did it!”

Noting Pusarla – with two bronze and two silver medals at this level previously – already possessed the weaponry to win the World Championship, Kim explained it was a matter of fine-tuning and varying the player’s tactics; not to be so predictable in her shot selection.

In five months, coach Kim Ji Hyun (left) sharpened Pusarla V Sindhu’s skills in preparation for the TOTAL BWF World Championships.

“She had more individual training. We worked on her net skills and deception for hours. Everyone knows she’s a great player but she was doing the same things over and over in matches.

“To change your ways, you have to see them. I video-taped her and then I stopped the rally and asked her which shot she’s going to hit,” elaborated Kim, adding that “anticipation and being ready for the follow-up shot” was another area of focus.

For both Park and Kim, the results in Basel proved the sweetest redemption.

In the former’s case, it seemed a distant three months since he faced the glare of media scrutiny – and probing questions – in the wake of Japan’s 0-3 humiliation in their Sudirman Cup showdown versus archrivals, China. By the looks of it back in May, the sky was imploding on Japan’s badminton aspirations just a year from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Now, suddenly, the Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly again!

Head coach Park Joo Bong (centre) was the focus of media attention after he orchestrated Japan’s best World Championships results – two golds, three silvers and one bronze.

“This is the first time we reached four finals. It’s historic. Our target was to reach at least the semifinals in every event which we achieved.

“I talked to my players before we came here and said that we’re back to an individual tournament. I told them it is not the Sudirman Cup, but we will try to beat China,” revealed Park of the team’s collective mindset.

“And we have done so in all the categories except mixed doubles – so I’m very happy with my players’ performance.”

As for his Korean compatriot, Kim, a year ago her life was at an unexpected crossroad. She was among the coaches fired last September by the Badminton Korea Association because of the national team’s failure to medal at the prestigious Asian Games. In March this year, she accepted an offer to join India’s coaching staff, bringing her into Pusarla’s life – just in time!

“I got the job offer and I decided to go. Five months later, we’ve got a world champion in Sindhu!”

Coaches Pullela Gopichand (left) and Kim Ji Hyun sit courtside during Pusarla V Sindhu’s match at this year’s BLIBLI Indonesia Open 2019.

The new world champion has spoken glowingly of her rapport with Kim and how much the specialised training – as well as her coach’s vocal courtside encouragement – have impacted her.

“She’s a great person and I really want to thank her for everything. A lot has changed. She told me some of my mistakes and improved my game skill-wise. That support has been very important,” said Pusarla, also crediting her long-time coach, Pullela Gopichand, who recruited Kim.

Gopichand, too, was extremely pleased with Pusarla’s triumph which he said had been “a long time coming”.

“It’s phenomenal. To come back year after year and win bronze and silver was great by itself because it’s not that India has won many bronzes or silvers. But there was a point when people started to say ‘only silver’ and I think, from that standpoint, this is very important.

“From the country’s point of view and from Sindhu’s perspective, I think it ticks a box as well, winning the World Championship gold is very important. It’s a fantastic win; not only the win, but the comprehensive way in which she’s done it, makes it a very special performance.”

Some would say – just perfect!