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The high of Indian badminton, especially in the singles category, seems so ephemeral that the shine is fading away disappointingly quicker than I had imagined. I wonder if it is the toughness of being at the top that is hard to sustain or is it the case of lost focus that occurred amidst the fame that followed the high? From the recent court performances, it looks to be unacceptably latter. I want to take you a few years back to present my perspective. Olympics 2016 was hugely successful and memorable for Indian shuttlers and fans alike. P V Sindhu’s most widely watched memorable finals with Carolina Marin and Kidambi’s (world no.11 then) run up to Quarter Final loss to the legend Lin Dan. This commendable achievement also earned them well-deserving love and attention of their fans. The win was so significant that the heads of state governments (Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) and also the Prime Minister of India rewarded the deserving two generously. Soon, during early 2017, the academy engaged renowned Indonesian coach Mr Mulyo Handoyo, who in yester years had coached legendary Taufiq Hidayat, to further the game of Indian shuttlers and to sustain the high of Indian badminton in international badminton circle. Indian badminton surged new heights with praise and support. Coach Mulyo had made remarkable progress of the Indian men’s singles players. Sai Praneeth, who had acknowledged the coach’s contribution to his game, won his maiden Super Series title at Singapore. Likewise, Kidambi Srikanth had admitted that the new coach had played an essential role in his run-up to winning four Superseries titles in 2017, which led to his all-time high of world no. 1, after his achievements on the world badminton tour. Saina Nehwal had also decided to return to the Gopichand Academy after the World Championships in 2017, whereas, HS Prannoy claimed the senior nationals title in 2017 and had credited coach Mulyo for improvements in his game, more particularly the backhand smashes. The hard work in 2017 landed two of the leading Indian singles players, Kidambi Srikanth and P V Sindhu, into the top-most league as world no. 1 & no. 2, respectively in the early part of 2018. However, ironically and abruptly, the shuttlers seemed to have struggled in their performances since 2018. This is also the time when coach Mulyo also terminated his three-year contract prematurely.
Kidambi in 2018 and 2019Kidambi did not win even a single title in any of the BWF tournament in the entire 2018 and so far in 2019. His world ranking has consequently slid to no. 9 as of now. He did not even qualify for HSBC BWF World Tour Finals in December 2018. In the BWF World Championship in 2018, he lost to a much lower-ranked player in two straight games in Round of 16. In the four BWF Super 1000 that he participated in 2018 and 2019, he exited in Quarters Finals twice and even in previous rounds, in the other two. Though his fight in three of them was against Kento Momota, he lost in Round of 16, even though he was up against Huang Yu Xiang. If you look at the six BWF Super 750 that he participated in, he exited in Quarter Finals in four of them and Semi Final in the remaining two. Five of these defeats have been in two straight games. Even if we look at the six BWF super 500 that he went in, he exited in all them in the Quarters or earlier, except for the Yonex-Sunrise India Open in March 2019, where he lost to Viktor Axelson in two very-low scoring games.
P V Sindhu in 2018 and 2019Except for a good win in the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals in Dec 2018, she did not win any other BWF titles in 2018 and so far in 2019. In the BWF World Championship in August 2018, run up to the final was impressive. However, she lost to Marin in the summit clash in two straight games. In the four BWF Super 1000 she played, she exited at the Quarters or even earlier. Moving on to the six BWF Super 750, Sindhu could not win any title. In three, she even lost out before Quarters, and in two, she exited at the Quarters, where she could make it to the Semis in only one. Astonishingly, she lost to GAO Fangjie in the Round of 16 at the Japan Open in September 2018. At the BWF Super 500 level, her performance was relatively better, compared to other tournaments but without any wins. Of the seven, she participated in; two were exits in Finals, two were in the Semis, two in the Quarters and an early exit in Round of 16. Though we can say that we now have 11 men's singles players ranked below 100, compared to previous years, but titles are still too far to fetch. With qualifications for Olympics 2020 on-going, I am fearing who will be qualifying and even if anyone does, it does not give enough confidence that they would reach far enough in the individual category. In my view, skills seem to be a lesser concern than the mental make-up and the ability to adapt during the play. Kidambi is a pleasure to watch, but when he starts to go down, there are not many matches, we see him change his strategy and fight back. Most of his losses seem to be to Momota because Momota is extremely smart and he adjusts his level of the game depending on what is required from his opponent. Let’s dedicate another piece for Momota because there is so much algorithm in his style of play. (The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Bridge.)