Malaysian Kim Tan Her has taken on the mantle of improving India’s badminton doubles. India’s lack of tradition can be blamed on insufficient support, but coach Tan insists there was a reluctance from young players from taking up doubles and allowing coaches to decide pairings, as well as the absence of world-class performances. Unlike in tennis, badminton doubles isn’t simply about splitting the workload. Shuttle doubles demands higher speed and hinges greatly on power.
Power is a factor that holds Indians back in tennis globally, and it’s what remains a challenge for young Indian doubles pairings trying to break through. Coach Tan will return from Kuala Lumpur after a short break, for preparing the Indians for the Commonwealth Games, and takes questions on yet another so-so doubles outing as India crashed out in the quarterfinals of the Badminton Asia Team Championships. Excerpts:
What were the takeaways from the Badminton Asia Team Championships?
I was quite satisfied with some of the men’s performances. Especially against Indonesia, who won the championship. It was the first time we could beat a top Indonesian pair of (Mohammad) Ahsan and (Kevin Sanjaya) Sukamuljo. Though they are not a regular pair, they are still amongst the world’s best players individually. Even (MR) Arjun and Shlok (Ramchandran) did well as a second pair. I’m happy with the juniors. Manu (Attri) and Sumeeth (Reddy) were OK. Overall there’s improvement, but this process takes time.
What do Manu and Sumeeth need to work on?
Everyone has to improve. But especially, Manu and Sumeeth need to give power to the partnership. Doubles badminton is all about power — explosive power are the two most important words in men’s doubles. This pairing has good understanding between themselves and are quite good at rotation. Only problem is power — especially Sumeeth. He needs to add more muscle and bulk up. In fast exchanges, power is needed otherwise you can’t finish the game. Manu can work more on his movement.
How soon before Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty take the next step?
I’ll give them a year and a half to make the Top 15. As a pair, they have good power. Satwik is particularly strong. They have good consistency in finishing, good serve, good receiving. But they have to improve their defence. They are not as compact as they should be.
Satwik has a lot of potential. What quality of his sets him apart?
As a professional coach, I look for a few things — character, attitude, potential and power. When I first saw this boy — he had good height and discipline. I told him ‘I need your discipline and commitment’. But most importantly, I told him ‘you need to give me your time completely and I’ll make you a world champion’.
What about Chirag?
Chirag is a very intelligent player, a smart boy. Sometimes in sport, you need that extra intelligence in order to make the decisions in the ending of a point. Chirag has no fear. He, of course, needs the support of a good trainer to get stronger. Also, they are a young pair — and they need to be told why they need to be doing certain things, what kind of decisions need to be taken when and why. Some of their losses are down to inexperience. But the defence is a very big problem. Since they are young, I only see them improving in strength and power. But they need one and a half years more.
One of the biggest disappointments in Malaysia was the women’s doubles scorelines. How do you rate Ashwini Ponappa-Sikki Reddy’s progress?
They are senior players but it’s been only around a year and a half since the pairing came together. And they are working hard on their rotation and defence. We’re concentrating on the Commonwealth Games.
Ashwini is a silver medallist from last time with Jwala. At Gold Coast, how do you see India’s chances and are the Malaysians the biggest challengers?
CWG is very open. Malaysia and England will be strong. But I believe if we are well prepared, we can back ourselves to win.
What were the challenges of coaching India?
When I came to India, the first challenge I saw was that here players chose their own partners — it’s not what happens when you build a top-class pair. Here the focus was on singles, and then players start thinking of doubles later. But I’m thankful to SAI, BAI and Gopichand for the opportunity to change the system here.
Can Indians match the Asian powerhouses?
I’ve trained in the past in Korea. And frankly, doubles in Asia is a power game needing strength and explosive bursts. Indians, at the moment, cannot compete with the Chinese, Koreans, Indonesians or even the Chinese Taipei pairs playing their style. What we can do is train according to strategy and tactics. I’ve coached in England too and I want to use the European model. Looking at the body structure and knowing that Indians can’t currently play like the Asians, I think we need to try training the European way.
India’s first major doubles success came with Jwala-Diju in mixed doubles. How does India go forward in mixed with Sikki and Pranaav?
When I came here, Sikki was playing with someone else, and they were struggling to win even 1 Star tournaments. Players don’t always know who they’ll form good pairings with. It needs a third eye to see what will click. So far, we can see Sikki and Pranaav have made some progress.
Ashwini is physically a very strong player, and I asked her why she plays only one event? She should be playing both mixed and women’s doubles. Satwik is the best player to play with. Both are talented as a pair and working hard. They’ve scored some good wins and put up a good show against World No. 1s. At the Olympics, there are 6 medals available in doubles and three in singles. I just have to make Indians realise that there are more medals in doubles.
How do you rate your tenure so far in India?
I’ve been in India for 2 years, 4 months. I’m happy I’ve been able to mould the juniors. Some like Dhruv Kapila and Krishna Prasad have potential. But Indians need to be patient. Doubles is difficult, and dominated by power. It’ll take time to find top-level success, but I want the system to be strong and not about one odd talented pair.
Sindhu plays doubles in team events. How do you rate her doubles skills?
She’s enjoying playing doubles, so it’s good. Last 2 years, she’s been playing in team events and helping the team. Her priority is obviously singles, but it’ll be a good move if she drops in once in a while and devotes a few minutes just for doubles training. It’ll help her singles skills and sharpen her defence.
Where is India placed currently in doubles?
Honestly, Indians have a long way to go in doubles — in skills and power. There’s still a long time before we say that any Indian can be counted as world-class. The gulf in standards is something we need to work on. No point thinking we’ve got somewhere till we actually reach there.