Keeping the Paris Olympics in mind, star Indian shuttler Kidambi Srikanth has hired an Indonesian coach to help him ramp up his game in the run-up to next year's showpiece.
The qualification period for the 2024 Olympics began on May 1 and Srikanth, who has been struggling with form, has availed the services of Wiempie Mahardi to help him train.
"I have been trying to get a coach since December 2021, when Agus left. Now I have an Indonesian coach Wiempie Mahardi. I met him when I went to Indonesia to train for three weeks. He came to India in the last week of April," former world number one Srikanth told PTI.
India is yet to appoint a foreign coach for men's singles players since the abrupt departure of Indonesia's Agus Dwi Santoso in December 2021.
After PV Sindhu parted ways with Park Tae Sang in February, the Korean has been helping out the men's singles players. "I was trying to get a coach through TOPS but somehow, it didn't work out. In January, I sent SAI the proposal and since then it has been on hold. Since the Olympic qualification period was also starting in May, I couldn't hold any longer, so I decided to do it myself," Srikanth said.
A former world top 25 player, Mahardi has more than 10 years of coaching experience, having trained players in different clubs across countries. Srikanth achieved unprecedented success in 2017 when Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo had taken over the training responsibilities.
The Indians went on to win four titles that season.
Another Indonesian coach, Agus Dwi Santoso, had an impact on him when he joined the Indian set-up in 2020.
"I don't think it (a personal coach) will work for everyone but it worked for me in the past. When Mulyo was there, I did well, and Agus was there I did well. So this Indonesian style works for me, that's why I needed a coach. "It is not easy to play without a coach, I mean that is the minimum requirement for a player," said the player who is managed by Baseline Ventures.
However, Srikanth didn't get the time to train with his new coach as he participated in the selection trials for the Asian Games. He finished at the top with six wins in as many matches to qualify for the individual events.
"I couldn't train with him because after I came back fromthe Asia Badminton championships, I didn't have any time. I had just two days before the trials and two days after the trials. After the upcoming Asian events, I hope to get some time to train with him."
Srikanth has endured a tough 2023, managing one quarterfinal finish in seven tournaments, which saw his ranking slip from world number 13 to 22.
"I was playing well last few events but just couldn't win those close matches. Once I start doing that it will make a big difference. Let's see what I can get out of the next four tournaments that I am playing.
"Badminton also keeps evolving, there will be someone who will come and dominate and people will have to come up with an alternate formula." Srikanth won a world championships silver in 2021 before guiding India to a historic Thomas Cup win last year.
"I have done well in 2021 and 2022 till Commonwealth Games and then others slowly started getting better and I may have stayed there. You constantly need to keep improving, and that is also an important reason to have a coach," he said.
With only the top 20 players handed direct entry into the Asian Games, the 30-year-old from Guntur, ranked 22nd, had to participate in the selection trials for the first time.
"I think it is the first time that I played a trial for Asian Games. I am okay with it as long as there is a fixed rule. Of course, it is a little tiring, since it has been a while since I played two matches in one day," said Srikanth.
"The younger players won't feel it but it was tough for me to play two matches. When I was 19-20, I used to play 5-6 games a day, my body took that load then but I can't put my body through it now. Also, the Olympic qualification period has started and it is a challenge for the players."
Next up for Srikanth is the Sudirman Cup, mixed-team championships beginning in Suzhou, China from May 14.
"We have a strong team, but we need to perform like it happened in Thomas Cup. I think we have a better team. In previous years, we used to have good singles and then miss out on doubles. This time we have very strong singles and doubles," he said.
India has been drawn with Malaysia, Chinese Taipei, and Australia in Group C. "Last time in Thomas Cup, in every tie Satwik and Chirag won, it made a big difference.
In most of the past Sudirman Cups, a lot of times we lost 3-2, it is about that one doubles win against teams like Malaysia, Taipei, Japan, or Korea, so they will make a big difference. "With our men's and women's doubles doing well, it gives us a better chance this time."