It hasn’t been a great year for Indian badminton – at least if the performances in the first half of 2019 have been anything to go by. The dip in form of our shuttlers would evoke concerns about whether our ‘preparations’ are in best shape for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With just little over a year to go for the biggest sporting event on the planet, it may not sound “exaggerated” to suggest that the preparations of our shuttlers have been far from being ‘ideal’.
The country’s downcast showing in the 2019 Sudirman Cup – World Mixed Team Championship – where they were shown the exit door in the first round only gave a stamp of approval to their declining performance trend in 2019. (It may be pertinent to note that India had reached the quarterfinals in the previous edition of the biennial tournament held in Gold Coast). Surely, the first round exit at the 2019 Sudirman Cup is being seen a new ‘low’ in a year that has seen Indian singles players (both men and women) struggling to replicate the consistency witnessed over the last few years.
Save for Saina Nehwal’s singles triumph in the Indonesian Masters – an event where Carolina Marin retired hurt after twisting her knee midway through the match, there is very little to write home about our shuttlers this year..
Indian shuttlers hardly made a splash at the All England Championships – another premier event, where our best showing was a quarterfinal finish by Saina. PV Sindhu had a horrible 2019 so far – she was shown the tournament exit round in the first round itself at the All England Championship - she would be hugely disappointed with her showing this year so far – her best efforts were semifinal finishes at the Singapore Open and Yonex Sunrise Indian Open.
Among the Indian men, barring the final appearances of B Sai Praneeth and K Srikanth at the Swiss Open and Yonex Sunrise Indian Open, it has been a downward spiral for all our men shuttlers.In fact, Srikanth hasn’t won a singles crown since winning the 2017 French Open.The likes of Sameer Verma and HS Prannoy also had a subdued 2019.
So what could have gone wrong with the Indian shuttlers in 2019?
There is a line of thought that the exit of specialist singles coach Mulyo Handoyo from Indonesia sowed the seeds of the declining performance trend of our shuttlers.
The veteran Indonesian coach took charge in early 2017 and left the Indian job in late 2017 much ahead of his three-year contract (2017-2020) citing family issues. Mulyo – a former coach of celebrated Indonesian shuttler Taufik Hidayat (he guided Taufik towards winning the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medal) – clearly came to India with outstanding credentials and the country saw how within a short span of time he shaped the success stories of our shuttlers.Handoyo has been credited with putting in a place a training system that has yielded great results for Indian badminton. (Twitter/ Antonius Agustian)
Former Indian international player and coach Uday Pawar said the departure of Mulyo clearly affected the winning momentum the Indian shuttlers was building on consistently. “I believe he played a big role in improving the fitness levels of our players and is also tactically sound. Many players have come out openly about how they have benefitted from his high intensity sessions. Mulyo’s absence is being clearly felt.”
Uday, who is best remembered for his doubles exploits in his heydays, feelsthat the performances of the country’s singles players during the coaching stint of Mulyo only reinforce his contribution to Indian badminton during less than a year stint in India. “Just look our singles performances – our boys won 7 singles crowns in 2017 – Srikanth had an absolute blast winning four Super Series titles (Indonesian Open, Australian Open, Denmark Open and French Open). Sai Praneeth had a fabulous year winning two singles title, while Prannoy broke into the top-10 not to speak of Sindhu’s World Championship silver medal in Nanjing. All these performances clearly sum up Mulyo’s contribution to our singles department.”
Uday – a twice Senior Nationals singles runners-up – is bullish that the new Korean men’s singles coach Park Tae Sang will deliver. “Any foreign coach needs about six to eight months to get into the groove when it comes to dealing with the senior shuttlers and I have no doubts that the Indian shuttlers under Park will hit the high performance button ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.”Let’s hope that the Indian badminton contingent will brush aside the on-court disappointments in the first half of 2019 and raise the performance bar under new Korean men’s singles coach Park Tae Sang and women’s singles coach Kim Ji Hyun. The key will be to correct the on-court wrongs and up the fitness quotient as well as stay injury-free so that our shuttlers are well armed to keep the Indian flag flying at the Tokyo Olympics.