If there’s one department where India has produced quality badminton and results in the past two years, it has been the singles discipline. A total of seven Superseries titles came India's way as the 2017 calendar year proved to be one of the most open seasons.
While PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and national coach Pullela Gopichand became the talk of the town, specialist singles coach Mulyo Handoyo slowly but steadily laid the foundation back at the Gopichand Academy for the singles shuttlers to perform consistently at major events this season.
However, there have been speculations for the past two days surrounding his departure as the Indonesian coach's wife and teenage son are reported to have been finding it difficult to adjust to life in India, as a result of which the veteran coach was faced with the choice of either heading home or staying back with the prospect of not seeing his family for long.
It will be a huge shock if Handoyo decides to part ways with the Badminton Association of India (BAI) after playing an integral role in the successful 2017 season for the sport in the country. Handoyo is highly regarded by Gopichand and other ex-players and coaches for putting in place a training system that yielded immediate results. Sindhu’s blistering start, Praneeth’s incredible run in Singapore and Thailand, HS Prannoy's entry into the top 10 and Srikanth's historic title-winning spree had Handoyo's name all over it.
Since joining forces with the BAI last year, Handoyo has not only acted as a helping hand for Gopichand but has also instilled the much-needed confidence among the once-struggling singles shuttlers. From changing training methods to giving a mental edge to the once-inconsistent Indian players, the acclaimed coach has done it all. If he does snap ties with the BAI, it would prove costly because the players have really enjoyed under his astute mentorship, and have been able to make a strong statement of intent on the global stage.
“Long sessions and pushing ourselves to the limit. That was his mantra,” Praneeth told Firstpost at the GoSports Foundation Athletes' Conclave in Bengaluru earlier this month, when asked about Handoyo's contribution to the singles players' development. After spending months on analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the singles shuttlers, Handoyo came up with a surprise plan and that was just the beginning of the Handoyo legacy.
Before his arrival, the singles clan was accustomed to a three-session training method – first session from 7.00-8.30 am, second from 11.00 am-12.30 pm followed by a gym session in the evening. However, Handoyo believed that wasn’t enough to compete at the highest level. So he decided to club the two morning sessions and make it a three-hour high-intensity affair.
“We were not used to the schedule at first but that made us train better and perform better. Notably, we could feel that our fitness levels were increased as we were playing back-to-back tournaments,” explained Praneeth.
Over the past decade, the singles shuttlers have struggled to maintain consistency. They couldn’t last long in consecutive events. But the 2017 season showed how the same players smashed away their indifferent form under Handoyo’s mentorship. “Earlier, playing one tournament and maintaining the same fitness levels in the second was difficult. The schedule and training sessions made the difference,” admitted Praneeth, who also revealed that he was able to play back-to-back tournaments, apart from winning the Singapore Open owing to the guidance he got from Handoyo.
One of the things what Handoyo also noticed was that the Indian players ran out of steam towards the end of a three-game encounter, which also affected their mental strength. “We couldn't match up to how others approached the deciding game. His training methods have helped us on the endurance front where we can play three games hassle-free,” said Sameer Verma. Handoyo’s wards reaped the rewards of engaging in longer training sessions and shrugged off the habit of succumbing to pressure in the crucial stages of a match. “He works on our overall game like attacking, defensive strokes, positioning on the backcourt etc,” added Verma.
Handoyo knew what changes he wanted to apply and the different methods to achieve the target set by himself at the start of the campaign. Praneeth, Verma and other singles players never felt the need to ask Handoyo about the sudden change as they could themselves feel the difference whenever they took to the court. “We were tired and felt restless at times but the difference we noticed was enough,” said Verma.
The shuttlers would start their day with rallies followed by other duels for the next three hours. Praneeth stated that the concept of badminton was the same everywhere but there was a slight difference in the way how Handoyo and Europeans trained. “Gopi sir used to tell us that whatever we do for one hour should be with complete concentration and then take a break and do all over again in the second session. However, Handoyo sir tweaked it a little. His concept is different from the Europeans. For example, he wants us to practise rally shots for 45 minutes in comparison to the European style of two-minute high-intensity drills."
Notably, Handoyo is not the first Indonesian coach to join the Indian coaching staff. In the recent past, Atik Jauhari and Edwin Iriawan played an important role in the development of shuttlers like Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta. Many of the players have adopted the Indonesian style of play which says a lot about the Indonesian coaches' good relations with Indian players, and so losing Handoyo at this point would be nothing short of a disaster. "From the last eight years, we've been used to the Indonesian way of badminton since we have a lot of Indonesian coaches in India. That's what even the Malaysians or other Asian countries do," said Praneeth.
After stabilising the singles unit, which saw Indians managing to get a result on nine occasions out of 12 Superseries events, badminton in the country could be in for a shocker should the Indonesian coach decide to leave. It will be a huge task for the BAI and Gopichand to carry forward the legacy left behind by Handoyo, keeping in mind the cramped 2018 schedule, which includes the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2018 12:09:27 IST