Mumbai: Hailing Pusarla V Sindhu's excellent show right through 2016 that saw her becoming the first and only Indian shuttler to win a silver medal in the Olympic Games, chief national coach P Gopichand said today his lanky ward is capable of scaling greater heights.
"I have always maintained that even when she won in 2013 or 2014 (back-to-back world championship singles bronze medals) Sindhu is still some time away from being her best. I maintain that even now that she has the potential to do even better," said the former All-England men's singles champion during an interaction with the media here.
"She has done a lot of hard work to reach here and a lot of people will keep looking to get good performances against her and beat her. It's going to be challenging, but I am happy the way she has coped with the pressure and got us the performances which were very important," Gopichand said.
He was also happy with Sindhu's performance at the year-ending World Super Series Finals in Dubai where the 21- year-old reached the semi-finals before losing to South Korea's Sung Yi Hyun after avenging her defeat in the Rio Olympics final to Spain's Carolina Marin in the group stage.
"Overall it has been a very good show from Sindhu (in Dubai). She played well in all the matches. Of course she lost to Sung but Sung played very well on that day; it was a very good match.
"The year has been fantastic. She had a chance to play Marin (in Dubai) and beat her. It's good. The way she qualified for the Super Series finals was also very creditable as she had to win and play the finals. In the last three tournaments she took part in there was one win, one runner up and one semi-final. I'm happy the way she has played overall."
The national coach said the key for Sindhu to continue her progress lay in adapting to different styles of play and court conditions.
"She of course needs to adapt to different styles of play, different court conditions. She needs to actually get used to the fact that it does not matter to lose," said the 43 -year-old badminton legend.
For Gopichand, it's important to see what she has
already achieved rather than rue over what she hasn't.
"She is just 21. She has achieved World Championship medals, has won medals in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games Asian Championships and Olympics. I would rather stick to what she has achieved than what she has not."
He also saw intense rivalry brewing up in women's singles with Sindhu in a mix of young and talented players.
"Women's singles badminton is a very challenging event with a lot of countries with young, exciting and various types of players dominating the scene. If we need to consistently win we need to change our style and keep adjusting to different styles," the Hyderabad stalwart said.
"You have the world No. 1 (Tai Tzu-Ying) who is 22, Marin is 23. You have a bunch of other players like Ratchanok and Yamaguchi who are 20 or 21. There are a bunch of six-seven of them plus the new Chinese girls who are coming up. It's going to be exciting.
Gopichand was also glad that former world No.1 and 2012 Olympic Games bronze medallist, Saina Nehwal, is back in action after being laid low by a leg injury with which she struggled to compete in the Rio Games and made an early exit.
"It's great to see her back and give some good performances in China and Hong Kong. I am sure the coming days will show us even better signs. She has played three back to back tournaments which obviously shows she has recovered very well (from her injury)," said Gopichand.
"Of course the fitness element will take a little more time - like court sharpness, match fitness - to come but it's only a matter of time."
While conceding the men have been inconsistent, he blamed the surfeit of tournaments they had to play for achieving Olympic qualification for their fitness problems.
"It's been a challenge. Many of them have played many tournaments, trying to qualify for the Olympics, that actually somewhere made dents in their fitness. I am happy at the end of the year that we had a quarter final result (K Srikanth) in the Olympics which was important.
"We had Sameer and Saurabh Verma and Ajay Jayaram do well. I do accept the fact that they could have been more consistent, but they have showed that they have the potential to play against the top players in the world - and not one or two players.
"They all have played very well in different times and it augurs well for Indian badminton. Hopefully, we will get consistency (in future)," he concluded.