Five Indians in men's singles top 20: Badminton in the country is enjoying a 'new phase' of robustness

When the Badminton World Federation (BWF) officially announced the rankings for week 39 of the calendar year last Thursday, there was a host of notable changes in the men's singles department. World champion Viktor Axelsen became the first Danish shuttler to top the men's singles chart after 11 years, while South Korean Son Wan Ho finally came down to the second spot after being numero uno for 16 long weeks.

But, there was more to it than the churn in the rankings.

History was created when five Indian men's singles shuttlers – Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma and Ajay Jayaram – were placed inside the top 20 for the first time ever. It is surprising that despite having just one male player (Jayaram) in the top 20 in week 14, the rankings saw four entrants in the list by week 30. By the end of July (week 30), all the hard work started to bear fruit on the domestic as well as international platforms.

Sameer started the year by winning the Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold title in India, while Prannoy was unbeatable at the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in January.

On foreign soil, Praneeth shrugged off his indifferent form to claim his maiden Superseries title and Grand Prix Gold crown at the Singapore Open and Thailand Open respectively. Srikanth, who lost to Praneeth in Singapore, regained his form to win back-to-back gold medals at the Indonesia Superseries Premier and Australia Superseries.

"We have different kinds of players in the circuit, good 8-10 shuttlers. I think we have good depth in the men's singles department. With every tournament passing by, we have been consistent in tournaments. After getting the much-needed break, I'm focused on the coming tournaments," Srikanth told Firstpost in September.

Meanwhile, Prannoy, who was placed outside the top-20 for most of the time, moved up the ladder in week 25 after winning the US Open Grand Prix in July. Interestingly, the Kannur-born shuttler was dubbed as a 'giant-killer' for his courageous performances against Malaysian ace Lee Chong Wei in the second round and Chen Long in the quarter-finals of the Indonesia Open.

Jayaram, however, has had an on and off season after an impressive PBL season with Mumbai Rockets.

"The men's singles have been performing consistently for the last seven to eight months, I would say. That's why you see us in the top 20. This is a new phase for Indian badminton. Saina (Nehwal) and (Pusarla Venkata) Sindhu have been doing well on the other hand. The rest five or six boys have at least reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals," Prannoy said.

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) Gopichand National Badminton Academy in Hyderabad has witnessed all the singles players going through a rigorous physical training regimen and the difference has taken everybody by surprise. The boys have proved that Indian badminton is reaching new heights with each tournament and since the arrival and sustained efforts of Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, there is no denying that the past five or six months have been like a transition period.

When asked about the introduction of new training methods at the Gopichand Academy, Prannoy said: "The training sessions have been longer in comparison. We haven't been involved in longer sessions earlier and all of a sudden he (Handoyo) wanted us to practise for three-four hours in the morning. That slowly started building patience and that patience is now helping us on the court."

Well, numbers don't lie.

With so many talented shuttlers in the Indian men's circuit, the level of competition has gone up ever since. Four out of the five shuttlers train under national coach Gopichand and Handoyo in Hyderabad, and the healthy competition has helped them improve their quality. "Everybody has been training the same way as they have since the past four to five years, but the competition in training itself is the reason behind the recent surge. That (competition) gets the improvement out of each one of us. At the start of the year, I was playing well, Sameer (Verma) was playing well. That trend has been going on. The healthy competition has helped all of us push ourselves to the limit," explained Prannoy.

Since 2013, the fitness of some of the singles players had raised a few eyebrows as that was one area where the Indians had been inconsistent, if not technically gifted. However, 2017 has been a year full of records and smart moves on and off the court. "We need to be injury-free and only play tournaments if we are really fit. We should not go on to play and try to better our rankings. Since the start of the year, we have been able to prepare well for tournaments and the results are in front of you," said Prannoy.

The recent success has signalled the tremendous growth of the players under Gopichand and his support staff post-2016 Olympics. The men's singles players have smashed their way into reckoning in no time and have hence proved they are no more pushovers. "As of now, things are going well for us (men's singles) but there will be patches where it would be tough to win. I think we need to work harder to reach the top-10 level," Prannoy concluded.

Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 22:16 PM

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