MUMBAI, July 27, 2017 - When talented badminton stars, H.S. Prannoy and Parupalli Kashyap, occupied the top two positions at the U.S. Grand Prix Gold, it was the third occasion this year that two Indian menís singles players have competed in the final of a major tournament.
It could have been four had Prannoy managed to convert any of the five match points against Kazumasa Sakai of Japan in the Indonesia Superseries Premier semi-final last month, which Kidambi Srikanth went on to win.
Even a year ago, two Indian men in the final of a Grand Prix or a higher level event outside India would have been considered a novelty and any all-Indian clash from the quarterfinals was viewed as opportunity to ensure an Indian participant in the next round. But the last eight stage face-off between Srikanth and B. Sai Praneeth in Australia Superseries is a good enough indicator of how much the scenario has changed since the start of the year.
Srikanth and Sai Praneeth played the Singapore Superseries summit clash in April and since then India has grabbed the next two Superseries titles and a Grand Prix gold crown.
Those who have been following the progress of Indian badminton will not be surprised by this sudden surge in performance. Mostly overshadowed by the towering performances of Olympic medallists, Saina Nehwal (bronze, 2012) and P.V. Sindhu (silver, 2016), the menís singles players were getting more consistent with every passing year, minus title winning performances.
The joining of Indonesian, Mulyo Handoyo, to the Indian coaching staff proved to be the catalyst that propelled the Indians to perform outstandingly in the last few months. The coach of former World and Olympic champion, Taufiq Hidayat, has brought in the experience that the current crop needed to excel. He also provided the much-needed back-up to chief National coach Pullela Gopichand.
Handoyo, who joined the coaching staff at the start of the year, has also made a few changes to the training system of the top players with longer sessions concentrating on preparing them for gruelling and long drawn matches, something that has become the norm in international badminton.
What has really changed with the arrival of Handoyo, Heriawan and a few domestic coaches, stationed in Hyderabad for the National camp, is that the top players can get more personalised attention on a regular basis.
With so many players performing at the same level, it is difficult even for Gopichand to concentrate on every individual separately, which is very important to train potential stars to champions.
ďThe arrival of Mulyo has meant that he concentrates on the system and schedules while I can give more time to players individually depending on their needs,Ē explains Gopichand.
ďAlso we have the likes of coaches Siddharth Jain, Amrish Shinde and others attached to the National camp for longer durations and that meant that the overall standard of coaching also went up,Ē he adds.
As things stand, India will have seven players in the top-50 out of which four have already won a major title this year.
Soon after the US Open win, Prannoy spoke about the growing number of Indian players pushing for titles. He said it was not difficult to avoid playing Indians in major tournaments hereafter and that all of them would have to get mentally used to such all-Indian matches.
It is the depth in menís singles that will give India the confidence. India can be the powerhouse to beat in near future.