Indian badminton’s top singles players have not done anything special in the last couple of years. Apart from PV Sindhu’s World Championships win in 2019 under Korean coach Kim Ji-hyun, there hasn’t been anything to write home about. The men’s singles division has failed to produce anything worthwhile, Saina Nehwal has been struggling with form throughout while PV Sindhu has been wobbly a lot of times. Not winning tournaments is one thing but a lot many times, the players have looked a bit lost on the court and have not been able to dig their way out of difficult situations, which presents a worrying picture.
Saina Nehwal’s former coach Vimal Kumar, who is currently working with Lakshya Sen, said it is the doubles that has produced a bit of spark recently instead of the singles. He, however, hoped that Sindhu can win the ongoing All England Championships.
“Maybe men’s doubles, and Satwik-Ashwini (Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa) in mixed, they have put up some impressive performances. Singles, I wouldn’t say anybody has done anything special, including maybe Sindhu, these have been tough times. Let’s see what Sindhu can do at All England. Of course, the Chinese aren’t there and Carolina Marin and Tai Tzu Ying, they are all not playing, I feel Sindhu can win the tournament and that will give her a lot of confidence, which is what she requires now.
“I hope she can win the All England. That would be a perfect preparation for her. Give her that the right confidence going into the Olympic Games, and definitely she will play the Olympic Games, no doubt about it. As far as Saina is concerned, I am disappointed. She still has issues with injuries and it’s going to be a herculean task for her to make the Olympic Games,” Vimal said in an exclusive conversation with News18.com.
Vimal presented a detailed view on the Indian’s performances in the All England so far saying he was happy with what Lakshya has done given the issues he has been facing recently.
“Yesterday he played really well against the Thai boy Kantaphon and today, of course Ginting couldn’t play so he gave a walkover to (Thomas) Rouxel, the French No.1 and Lakshya won comfortably. The draw has opened up and Lakshya plays Dutch Caljouw. So, Lakshya has a good chance and it will give him good confidence.
“The last four or five months have been a bit of a mystery for him, you know, because he, he trained quite well, then his back issue came up in Denmark when he was playing the tournament, you know, so then that, that, that really took things back and then he returned, his father tested positive. So they got stuck over there. And then they came back and again he developed the same spasms. And so, he has really been into training now only for the last five to six weeks. So considering that I’m quite happy,” he said.
Vimal further opined that while Kidambi Srikanth’s first round loss was disappointing, he thought HS Prannoy played well against world No.1 Kento Momota but “he didn’t have the maybe the fitness levels” and that the Japanese was simply superior.
During the conversation, Vimal weighed in on a lot of subjects – from detailing why Sindhu lost the Swiss Open final in that manner to why the Indian performances are suffering on the court. Vimal also called out for more support and exposure for the second string of players.
ON SINDHU’S SWISS OPEN FINAL LOSS
It was wrong tactics. She kept on persisting with the same, she was trying to cope with Carolina’s pace, and that particular day Sindhu was very sluggish and she wasn’t moving that well. She tried to push and attack like that when she could have taken the pace of Carolina’s shorts because she was against the drift in the first game. She could have kept Carolina at the back and played on those lines. And then once after gaining that momentum, and then she could have pushed the pace with the wind when she was playing the second, that would have been the strategy.
‘CHOPPING AND CHANGING OF COACHES’ HAS NOT HELPED
Sometimes, you know, when you’re playing badly, the players don’t apply themselves and Sindhu’s was poor tactical display at finals. And I was talking to the coach (Part Tae Sang) who was also saying, no coach can do anything at that time. Sindhu has been good so far in the All England so let’s see. Everyone is short of match practice but the only thing these other countries have is their domestic events are happening. They have been playing their domestic competitions, and they are in that mode even though there’s no international badminton. They’re playing a lot of matches. All the top nations are doing that, Japan and China and all have internal leagues going on.
Chopping and changing of coaches is one of the factors definitely but the top players at that level have to be insane mentally, in with the coaches. If they are not happy mentally, then you can even give them the best of coaches and such things and still it won’t give the desired results. They should be convinced about the work they are doing will help them, the tactical strategies, everything will help. There is a bit of a vacuum there, maybe Mulyo (Handoyo) leaving, it is definitely because in 2017, he left abruptly and that was a big setback. When he was there, Sai, Srikanth and Prannoy especially were doing really well but he was there only for a year and these players also have to take more responsibility.
No coach can come and do a magic plan and they’re all experienced enough, they should apply a little more because the support system and other things are good. So they should make use of that little more judiciously and work, then only you can do well at the highest level. Even the lady coach Kim Ji Sung, who was working with Sindhu. Even Park came down for Sindhu and Saina. But Saina was not keen on working with him and she preferred working with (Parupalli) Kashyap, her husband. So, there are a lot of these issues, I don’t know, how Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) is coping with these things but these are affecting the overall system.
WHERE SRIKANTH IS GOING WRONG
Srikanth’s basic style is he is an attacking player. He likes to play a lot good at the net, and then when he jumps, he has excellent smashes, nobody can read where he is going to hit, that was his strength. Suddenly what I’ve noticed is he’s gone defensive. He’s not confident about his net game, he is very worried, tries to prolong the rally, which is okay at times. He can work on his defence, no doubt about it but he should not lose that attacking badminton which he played. That is happening with him. That was very natural for him and should not lose it. If he can get that rhythm back, it will be good. Instead of doing volumes and volumes of practising, he has to work specifically. They all need minor changes to their training programme. So do the right physical training, and, I’m sure he can find his way back. But it has been too long now, nearly three years, he has not done anything special. It’s definitely an area of concern.
YOUNGSTERS NEED MORE SUPPORT
There are about five to six of good youngsters but they are not getting the right exposure. Everything has been only for the top players, they get to play everything but the others are neglected, I would say. We have some good kids but they have to play international badminton. I see these Europeans, you know, whom Lakshya beat and many others, they are all in the top 50-60 bracket. They get to play more competition. But here, that opportunity, the second line of players have not been getting. There are a bunch of youngsters, who are waiting to get this sort of exposure. And they have to be supported.
They need to get support, they need that exposure, they need to play and they need to have better sparring but if you just stay back in Guwahati (Ashmita Chaliha), then it’s very difficult. She needs to plan her tournament programmes properly. It’s getting late for her because she is 21-22. If you don’t get into the top, if you don’t establish yourself by 20-21 at the world stage, it’s tough, you have to beat good players. Hers is the best as far as attacking badminton is concerned. Other girls? Yes, they still don’t have a finishing stroke.
WHAT’S WORKED FOR THE DOUBLES BRACKET
Basically, I would give a lot of credit to the PBL matches. All these youngsters could get to play with these top players and combine with them. So that has been a big, big help. So, we are now looking at Chirag (Shetty) and Satwik. Yes, we have a good steady young competition and then there are a couple more. Not go and play big events but if they can be systematically exposed to 200 and such events and taste winning matches. Here the problem is everyone just wants to play the All England and get points and claim a big rank. But no, which players you have defeated to get that rank? That’s how we know you. So it’s a combination of playing in Europe and Asia, the right balance has to be found and these youngsters have to get the exposure. Any amount of training you do at home will not compensate unless they are in the circuit and play and play and play, only then they are going to get better. That opportunity is still lacking and so that is something we need to address.