He aimed, he performed, he conquered
In 1994, after a chronic knee injury at the National Games in Pune, Pullela Gopichand was under the treatment of Dr. Rajgopal, from Delhi. When Gopi, along with his parents, asked the doctor his fees, the doctor replied by saying, “You win the All England title for the country, and that would be my payment.” The doctor was an angel in disguise for Gopi, and seldom did he learn that one fine day, his wish would come true.
In the year 2001, Gopi, along with his coach, Ganguly Prasad and, Leroy D’sa began the quest for the All England Championship in Birmingham. The All England is in all probability the most prestigious badminton tournament in the world. It has indeed been called the Wimbledon of World Badminton. Until then, it was only Prakash Nath, and Prakash Padukone who put India on the All England podium. Gopi had not crossed the pre-quarter-finals in previous tries and knew that it would perhaps be his last chance to emulate Prakash Padukone, who is a sports icon in India.
Gopi’s first match was against Ronald Susilo of Singapore. Gopi won in consecutive games with a score of 15-11/15-12. The match lasted for 45 minutes, with Gopi using his net play and smashes smartly to win. It was a good first-round match, which helped Gopi get accustomed to the competition environment.
The second match was against Colin Haughton from England. The match lasted for 30 minutes, and Gopi won in consecutive games with a score of 15-7/15-4. The match was important because Colin was England’s no. 1 player, and finishing the match fast would give Gopi additional rest for the pre-quarter-finals.
After every match, Gopi used to go to the physiotherapy room, lie on his stomach and load himself with ice to avoid body soreness. Gopi played against Ji Xinpeng, the Chinese Olympic Gold medallist, in the pre-quarterfinals. He played a high-level game, and won the match in straight games with a score of 15-3/15-9, and entered the quarter-finals of the Championship.
The quarter-final was against Anders Boesen from Denmark, who had defeated Taufik Hidayat in his previous match. With good smart play along the baseline and net, Gopi won the match in straight games with a score of 15-11/15-7. He had entered the semi-finals of the All England Championship.
Gopi’s fifth match was against the then World no. 1, Peter Gade. Everyone thought Gade could win the match, but Gopi proved them wrong and outclassed the top-seeded player from Denmark. It was the most intense match of the Championship. Gopi, who has lost with score of under 10 against Gade, won the match in consecutive games again with a score of 17-15/17-15.
The stage was set for the All England Final between Pullela Gopichand and Chen Hong, called the ‘The Great Wall of China.’ Gopi had played against Chen Hong twice and had won one of them. During the finals, Gopi kept the rallies longer with more deception and eventually won the match in straight games with a score of 15-10/15-6.
Pullela Gopichand had become the third Indian to win the Championship. It was a dream come true for him. With such severity of injuries, Gopi could have opted to retire, but he chose the difficult path and fought to conquer his dream and the doctor’s wish. Persistence, patience, and hard work aided him to win the All England Championships, 2001.
Highlights of the final match against Chen Hong
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