"Matchpoint, It's long, Pullela Gopichand is All England Champion!"
It was 19 years ago that Gopichand had beaten all odds to lift the All England Open title at Birmingham's National Arena, the first Indian shuttler to do so in over two decades. Since then, almost two more decades have gone by and although Saina Nehwal did come close once, no Indian shuttler has been able to repeat the feat.
PV Sindhu, the reigning world champion and Indian badminton's beacon of hope in recent times, is vying for her first All England title and will be in action in the quarters later today. She could just follow into her coach's footsteps, and who can serve better inspiration to her than Gopichand himself?
For, no one had fancied the lanky 27-year-old Indian, who had had three surgeries on his left knee in the last four years, to win. The draw, also, was quite difficult for Gopichand. In the round of 16, he overcame the challenge of Sydney Olympics gold medallist Ji Xinpeng. It was the first time Gopichand had made it to the quarters of the prestigious tournament.
By no means a pre-tournament favourite, Gopichand making it to the quarters was in itself massive. He had already exceeded all expectations, what more could he do?
After all, questions had always been raised over his physical fitness, following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in his left knee in 1994. But he progressed to the last four where he met the then World No. 1 and top seed Peter Gade. Faced with an uphill task, Gopichand displayed class as he took down Gade in straight sets. Then, in the final, against Chen Hong of China, Gopichand fought back after trailing in the first game and held on to his lead in the second.
Once Chen's attempted drop shot eventually landed wide, and Gopichand knew he had won, he threw his arms in the air in celebration. The tournament had gone on for two weeks, the final had lasted less than an hour, but the title had taken more than two decades to come.