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Indonesia and Australia. Related News It will go down in history as Indian badminton’s famous mic drop – beamed out of Australia and witnessed by many at home on TV Kidambi Srikanth had just beaten Chinese Olympic and World champ Chen Long in a final of a Super Series He celebrated the triumph by spreading his arms looking skywards like he owned this universe and sent his racquet tumbling to the floor with slow-mo finality His smashing slashing racquet had done all its talking over three tournament-weeks and the country’s other men’s singles players – HS Prannoy slaying reputations Sai Praneeth hitting the peak – were determined to end all the fretting about their abilities to win big The Indians had arrived There are bigger landmarks in Indian shuttle – PV Sindhu’s being the biggest: a silver at the Olympics Then the twin All Englands by Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand like spectacular sightings of Haley’s Comet And of course the sheer consistency of India’s biggest badminton superstar Saina Nehwal winning titles after titles year after year for over a decade But ‘Srikanth bt Chen Long’ of that Sunday morning was an advent of a different kind It’s too early to talk big coach Gopichand says adding with a sobering tinge that the upcoming World Championships and future All Englands and Olympics remain the definitive ambitions More on that later but first a quick recap of what you might’ve missed in Indian badminton’s men’s singles since Gopichand’s All England win The blips on the radar while you were sleeping: the strapping Anup Sridhar had a big game and no sparkling silverware He beat Olympic Champion Taufik Hidayat during the 2007 World Championships after having thrice lost to him That day the freshly appointed coach Gopichand would tell Anup to hold back his two best shots – the down-the-line smash and the cross-court service return – until 16-16 so he could spring a surprise on Hidayat Having lulled the legend into predictable responses the Indian star would bring out the big weapons and come from behind to win the decider and the respect of the world The titles though never stacked up Arvind Bhat was at the fag end of his career in 2014 and recalls discussions about taking a set off or winning the next round than staking claim on titles when touring India hadn’t won big abroad since Gopichand and Bhat would string together 6 good matches over everyone save the Dominant 3 of that era to claim the German Open Parupalli Kashyap had scalped big names like Chen Long and Jan O Jorgensen here and there and made 7 semifinals of Super Series He chuckles about the ‘random s*&^’ like strings breaking or opponent blitzing blind shots to the lines that would ensure he would sit in the stands and applaud even as Saina Nehwal forged further winning finals Until in 2014 when in the semis of the Commonwealth Games against Rajeev Ouseph he finally defended out of his (attacking) skin getting back more than 20 shuttles to finally win Incidentally Gopi was there too He had one eye on Kashyap and the other on PV Sindhu and a third on Gurusai Dutt as matches overlapped Srikanth of course beat Lin Dan in China famously and then plunged to 9 first-round defeats in the next two years while Sameer Verma (Hong Kong) and Ajay Jayaram (Korea) fell at the last finals hurdles stubbing the big headlines HS Prannoy Rank: 23 There’s the big title to be won for shuttle’s big smasher the hulking Prannoy Not only does he hit hard he also retrieves maniacally He took out Olympic finalists on successive days in Indonesia but will need to keep his confidence high and temperament even if he has to fulfil his potential and win a title There are too many runner-up finishes to not want to break out of that pattern for the mammoth stroker HS Prannoy had a killer smash that slayed all in the juniors as he won silver at the Youth Olympics though he plateaued in the world of men But perhaps the biggest blink-and-miss is B Sai Praneeth Playing a late night first round match at the All England against long-time World No 1 Lee Chong Wei the talented touch-artist who’d beaten Taufik as a teen would score a sensational upset against the Malaysian “By the time the next edition’s papers came in India I’d played a very early morning (and very rubbish) second round match and gotten thrashed already So no one remembers me” Sai Praneeth recalls chuckling wildly Something changed these last two months in men’s singles badminton after years This summer the Indian men started winning titles So what was brewing “It is down to the amount of work you put in in training If you are physically stronger and know that you won’t tire you will have the confidence to deal with anything on the court for however long it takes” It is Gopichand’s eternal refrain and it comes with its limitations of dogma but no one – save Saina whose base was this very system – has figured a viable alternative With results showings even the doubters change their mind The last six months have thrown up results in the form of Sai Praneeth and Srikanth winning titles as well as HS Prannoy scalping big names on back to back days Unlike in the past Gopi now has a helping hand rather a co-mastermind Last winter in a coup of sorts Mulyo Handoyo the Indonesian former coach to Hidayat was roped in Taufik was a dazzler on court – a misleading quality masking the hours of prep-work that went behind creating magic Srikanth with his jump smash Prannoy with his power-backhand and Sai Praneeth with oodles of deceptive trickery were about to learn that pure skill wasn’t enough to win January 2017 – was the month when the Gopi curriculum got a tweak Sai Praneeth Rank: 18 Truckloads of stroke making talent is now supported by improved fitness as India’s second Super Series winner lines up at the Worlds in August with no dearth of scalping pedigree He’s beaten the big names of the world and shown resilience in learning the art of patience necessary to win titles He can still get stronger and will remain a treat to watch for his sheer talent though he’s spoiling for a scuffle to beat a non-Indian in another SS final soon to prove his mettle The first off the blocks was Sai Praneeth who Gopichand had asked to stay put at the academy instead of travelling to Europe Later Srikanth and Prannoy were urged to skip senseless travelling and first-round-losses in favour of training One exacting week blurring into the next is how Sai Praneeth remembers training – the hardest he’s ever done since starting at the academy in the coach’s first batch “Saturday-Sundays are not holidays like for normal people we actually recover” is his preamble to a breathless description “The Monday-Tuesday sessions are extremely tough by Wednesday morning we’re out Thursday Friday we push push against limits Friday evening is the worst – we have to run on the ground against time If we don’t the clock starts again” You wait for him to exhale but he chants on “you would think after the run Oh My God it’s over but no After the run is the high-intensity court session” It’s how these men – whose first instinct is to kill the shuttle in a flash – have gotten used to lasting longer rallies and not flubbing the end stages Narrow losses – like losing from 19-all – are not glorified anymore Besides Mulyo and the younger Indonesian Hariawan Gopichand has help from Sidharth Jain and Amrish Shinde former players who are chipping in with backroom preps now It’s about quality multi-feeding – like cricket’s tireless throwdowns to batsmen “It’s 5 hours with breaks 15 hrs intense stroke practice” Jain explains “So say once Srikanth is done with his strokes he has to move to the next court and act as feeder to another player Even when feeding you can’t make mistakes so you stay continuously tough even when tired and last session there’s no let up in intensity” he adds The idea of multi-shuttle is to increase court-speed and to improve the ability to return shuttles at faster clip It also enhances lung capacity “The boys are learning to play these strokes under such high pressure that in a match situation they aren’t cracking” explains Shinde “These are strokemakers But they’re learning to last to be in a position to play those strokes” Earlier it was down to one coach feeding – and with 20 wards needing the same intensity Now on any given weekday morning 9 courts witness whirring activity as shuttles take flight and are smashed to pulp – but only after a long rally Mulyo’s entry has freed Gopichand to focus on every shuttler minutely Though initially the new system had faced teething troubles “There were initial doubts about specific drills” Prannoy recalls the struggle to adjust to this new-found personalised attention “Some communication gap and we didn’t know why we were doing a certain dribble-smash-drill No one can do blind training and we needed clarity so Gopi bhaiyya sat us down and explained the thinking behind every stroke and why you need to do certain things in what match situations” he adds Earlier accustomed to blindly hitting his way out of trouble Prannoy cut a calmer frame against Chong Wei and Chen Long He was now thinking through his final points patiently “But Mulyo’s passionate about every session the energy and curiosity just rubs off” Prannoy adds of heady days spent deconstructing rallies There’s sessions allotted to stroke-corrections evenings full of gym-work agility shadow skipping and the dreaded twice-a-week track-runs “When Mulyo told me my game is like the top-class players I was elated His next line was my fitness is awful” Sai Praneeth remembers Indonesians don’t mince words because they come equipped with direct candid English and have no time for euphemisms Sai’s bubble of ‘immense talent’ needed to be burst before he won at Singapore Mulyo was ready with a smile and a prick-pin A thousand needles though had poked painfully when at the turn of the century Gopichand had attempted to manouvre all this into his own schedule as a player “They don’t understand excellence in sport is very finicky Small things matter big time in sport – we hardly got shuttles on time Simple things would take a long time so we wouldn’t ask for anything more Getting sparring partners (for multifeeding) took years and eventually never got done because there was no provision in our system for something like this” he recalls He remembers his 2002 Busan Asiad trip He didn’t have a coach or a sparring-mate He received funding for just one tournament per year “I don’t think when I played in Indonesia they even considered India a team” he laughs while today Indian academies receive requests to coach Indonesians “Courts shuttles physio food basic funding….” says Kashyap, “I will be doing action in the film. You see the dedication he puts to do it and I am happy it’s coming across on screen.

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