At the Yonex Sunrise 28th Smt. Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking Prize Money Selection Badminton Tournament at Tau Devi Lal Stadium, former chief national coach and current Badminton Association of India selector U Vimal Kumar urges the most important trait for junior shuttlers, patience. He also talks of the urgency that seniors need to show in the lead-up to Tokyo Olympics and predicts Sindhu could win the World Championship this year. Excerpts:
What do you make of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty’s success?
They are here to stay for the next 7-8 years. And it’s not that they have started playing good suddenly. For the last three years, they were playing lot of tournaments on the International circuit and were getting into quarters or final stages of such tournaments. And that’s what has made the difference for them. It’s only that when you win, you are noticed. Satwik is a powerful player and his smashes are very good and he likes to attack. Chirag is the one who controls the game and the combination has worked. Both of them also have developed soft skills and that’s the reason they are able to control. The game is also about power and if we see players from China, Indonesia and Malaysia, the players are very attacking and they also have the soft skills to take the pace out of the opposition. With this win and among the top ten now, they will be analysed and they would need to get better tactically. They have made their mark and they will learn with more exposure and planning for the tournaments.
Do you believe that there should be specialised focus on doubles right from the beginning at the junior level?
Yes, it will make a difference to the mindset of the Indian players as well the junior players too. I believe it’s at the age of 15-16 years that you decide about playing doubles seriously and that’s the decision which the players and coaches are required to make. At 11-12, you normally start playing singles and that should be the way. At that age, youngsters need to play singles, doubles or mixed doubles. And the decision to opt for doubles will depend on the skills aspect of the players.
Talking of doubles, it is also completely different from singles but it helps a doubles player if he is a singles player in his career and vice versa. One needs to take responsibility and sense of supporting the partner. And one needs to have good serving skills.
How do you see women’s singles shaping up in next few years?
Both Saina and Sindhu are special as they had the strength needed to compete at the international level from a young age. It came naturally to them as compared to other players and they could absorb the physical load of training sessions and practise better. And they had the ability to focus among all those training sessions and long hours of training. In the current junior batch, I see Ashmita Chaliha has the right approach to get far. She has the required skill level to excel and she needs to be stronger. Apart from her, Gopi’s daughter Gayatri also has the required skill set but she needs to also become physically stronger.
Has women’s singles changed in style in recent years?
In women’s badminton, they are now playing with lot more slower shuttles. It’s not that you have to hit thorough somebody to score points but you have to create chances with patience. In singles, it’s all about creating opportunities and now patience is very important. No players is just coming and hitting through. There are so many rallies and one has to play patiently at a fast pace. 15-20 shots mixed with good net play and good rallies are like Pythagoras theorem in badminton. Their importance cannot be changed. Badminton at international level is played in big halls and with the shuttle being slower, one needs to be deceptive. Skills like half smashes, clicks from back and deceptive shots near the net are still very important.
PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth have been going through a rough patch this year. How do you rate Indian players’ chances in upcoming world championships and the challenge from countries like China, Japan and Indonesia in women’s singles?
At the moment, both Saina and Sindhu are going through a low phase. It happens and it can be changed. Srikanth too has not achieved anything since past 8-10 months. But the most important part is that they have proven themselves with wins over best players of the world and they are capable. Hopefully, they can achieve in this month’s world championships. I believe Sindhu is playing lot better than others.
In Rio, she was unknown and played freely. Now she has the pressure of expectations. She also has been trying different skills, which is very important for a player like her. Japanese Akane Yagamuchi is the best player in the world right now. She is moving a lot better and attacking too. Earlier she relied on being a runner but now she attacks a lot. She has a small frame but she plays attacking and also makes strong back of the court returns. Tai Tzu Zing has dropped a level and Nozomi Okuhara was playing well till All England but her form has dipped a level. Carolina Marin is injured right now. If Sindhu can play to her potential, she can win the title in World championships.