Physio Sumansh Sivalanka was helping HS Prannoy strap his toes and ankles. The 24-year-old shuttler from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala has had terrible luck with injuries.
"Both my toes are injured due to stress fracture, the left one for over six months now. Gopi sir says in a career of 11 to 12 years, you should set aside two years for injuries. It is good to be injured at a younger age than when you are 27-28," said Prannoy.
This conversation took place in the last week of August at the SAI-Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad. I could not help remembering it as I saw Prannoy's impressive march into the semi-finals of the Indonesia Super Series Premier on Friday. Ten months after that chat when he sounded almost resigned to his fate, Prannoy seems to have figured out a way to keep injuries at bay. To me, it seemed the result of some sensible planning, an intense training schedule and the hunger to win.
But a spot in the last-four, where he has another Indian Kidambi Srikanth for company, isn't the only feat that is commendable. What makes the moment more special for him is that he beat Olympic champion Chen Long in the quarters, after having got the better of a sluggish World No 3 Lee Chong Wei in the pre-quarters. Srikanth ousted World No 9 Jan O Jorgensen and World No 19 Wei Wang enroute to the semis.
Talent, stamina, guile or power? What contributed to the success of these two shuttlers in Jakarta? Those in charge of Indian badminton credit it to mental toughness and self-belief. In the first half of 2017, India has seen their male talent emerging from the shadows of their female counterparts. Almost as if to tell the world that it is not just the PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal who make Indian badminton.
"A Prannoy sees his friends like Sai Praneeth doing exceedingly well in recent months, winning two big titles. Srikanth is doing well. It motivates him and makes him think if players he practises with every single day can go on to win, why can't he. This big talent pool of men's singles training together is great news for Indian badminton," points out Mohammed Siyadath, coach at the Gopichand Academy.
This week Praneeth has broken into the top 15 in the world. Six boys are in the top 50 in the world, making India the emerging powerhouse to watch out for. Apart from Praneeth, Srikanth and Prannoy, there is Ajay Jayaram, Sameer Verma and Sourabh Verma. Then there is the senior pro Parupalli Kashyap, a rockstar player on court when he is on song, aiming for that last hurrah before he hangs up his boots.
One of the big changes that happened this February was the entry of Mulyo Handayo as coach. The man famous for coaching former World and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat, Handayo has transformed the way the boys were training so far. He compressed three sessions in a day to two, to help the players develop endurance. The players now train for 10 sessions in a week, with each session lasting four hours without a break. So when Prannoy cuts short Long's run in a 75-minute long intense duel, you know who to credit that win to. And it must have given Handayo immense pleasure and pride to see his wards do well in front of his Indonesian home crowd.
In the run-up to 2016 Olympics, every player was playing as many tournaments as possible to go up the ranking and earn a berth to Rio. That resulted in injuries, Kashyap being a tragic instance, depriving him of a shot at the Olympics. Which is why post Rio, Gopichand laid down the rules for further competitions. Every tournament or two events that the players took part in, were to be followed by a four-week break for training, rehab and recovery. The injuries are, as a result, getting better managed now.
In April at the Singapore Open, for the first time in the history of Indian badminton, two Indians played the final of a Super Series event. Praneeth got the better of Srikanth on that Sunday. Going by their form described by a fan as "floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee", the odds are on both Prannoy and Srikanth to do well in the semis. If both or either of them make it to the finals, the Oval in London for the India vs Pakistan Champions Trophy match will not be the only big battle to savour this Sunday.
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Updated Date: Jun 17, 2017 11:53:33 IST