Former national badminton coach Vimal Kumar has the credit of training Olympic medalist Saina Nehwal. Under his wings, Saina had a fruitful stint with World No.1 ranking, two World Championship medals and other Superseries and Grand Prix titles in her kitty. Kumar, who is currently training youngsters at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, spoke to The Sunday Guardian about issues concerning Indian badminton and the top players. He also gave an insight into why India has not able to produce any women singles player in last six years. Excerpts:
Q. Lakshya Sen has won a silver medal at the Youth Olympics. How much potential do you see in him as a promising player in the seniors?
A. He is one of the promising players in the country. He has been showing better results than others. That way, he has the potential. But senior circuit is quite tough and Laskhya still needs to work on his physical aspects. Once it is done, he can play in the seniors freely because he has defeated some of the good players in the circuit so that confidence is already there. So, next year will be an interesting call.
Q. In Denmark Open, Saina lost to Tai Tzu Ying in the final and at the French Open also, she lost to her. And Saina’s head to head record against Tai has not been good. So, do you believe it will take time to break the losing streak?
A. Saina knows how to play Tai but unfortunately she doesn’t have much of deception when she plays. She has to be really moving well, retrieve well and then counter-attack against Tai. At the Danish Open, after winning the second set, Saina had not given the big lead. She had a chance; she could have converted that match, because Tai Tzu is not playing that great now. She is slightly going through a low face. See, if you look at it Yamaguchi had defeated Tai in the French Open final, so it is not impossible (to defeat Tai). But may be at the moment, Tai is really playing on Saina’s mind. But I think Saina is running close and she can convert.
Q. Mr Paraksh Padukone had somewhere said that when he trained outside the country, he realised the importance of physical fitness of players in the game. So now, do you believe we are marking the levels of fitness and stamina?
A. Yeah, yeah. We have good trainers and physios and they are making a big difference to the Indian badminton. Because of awareness and knowledge, (the physios are) understating the bio-mechanics of the sport and then designing various training programs specifically for badminton. We have a lot of young ones coming in the sport, especially below 13, so we can look at improving their strength aspects. At the moment, most of the Indian at that age are very good at skills so we need to give emphasis on their strength.
Q. After Saina, Sindhu became a big name in Indian badminton in 2013, but it has been five years and we have not seen any other women single’s players coming to the fore. So why is it that we are taking years to produce international level players?
A. It is not easy to produce such players; you have to get that material. The strength aspect is definitely lacking in the women players and many of them are not able to take that load which is required to excel at the top. Those things we still lack, so it is not easy. We have to continue looking for them and somebody will come around. Lots more people are getting into the sport and that’s a very big positive sign. Sindhu still has some 6-7 years of good badminton in her and the same with Saina – she too maybe left with a couple of years of good badminton in her. We have younger lot at the Academy, but you cannot say how they are going to shape up. I still do not commit of somebody like Saina and Sindhu so far. We have skills but the combination of mental and the physical aspects has not yet come around. So, maybe in the Under-16 or Under-17 category, somebody is likely to come up. But still, we definitely have to wait for a couple of years for that.
Q. How long will it take to win medals in the team events?
A. Our players are slightly getting better. If you look at Chirag Shetty and Satwik, they are doing good and so as Ashwini and Sikki Reddy are. But of course, we do not have the numbers like in men singles. We have many but a few look really promising and it will make a difference. I was quite happy seeing Chirag and Satwik playing well at the French Open. They have the potential and they are getting the opportunity to compete at the highest level. They should make the use of it and make a mark at the big stage. We are slowly making progress and things will turn around.
Q. Your views on Kidami Srikanth?
A. At the moment, Srikanth is going through a low phase. He is consistently losing to Momoto (Kento) and a few others. I can still feel Srikanth can turn things around but he has to have a Plan-B in defence. He is basically an attacking player who likes to dominate the rally but once that doesn’t happen, he gets a little disturbed and makes mistakes. So that’s been the problem with him. He needs to develop the patience needed. This year has not been a good year for him but he has the potential.
Q. At this time, do you believe that there are satisfactory resources available, like infrastructure and coaching, for a child to think about his future in badminton?
A. We need more infrastructure in different parts of the country because most of the badminton is concentrated in South. I am not saying we need to have big infrastructure but many more courts are required. Also, the lack of coaches is also bit of an issue. Most of the coaches, the former international players, are all concentrating on big cities, but some of them are required in ghetto cities. Coming of foreign coaches is always good, but our Indian coaches and former internationals also need to be groomed. They need to be more active on court. In the PBL also, the coaches get to interact with the overseas coaches and get to develop confidence. It is all about confidence.
Q. Do you think after the Asian Games, Saina has regained her form and she still has years of energy left her in her?
A: She can play well. You have to see, round the year, no player can play good all the time. Some of the top players have done well in the beginning of the year. Players like Carolina and Tai Tzu are all slightly going down in form.. even Sindhu though she has been consistent earlier. So it is time for Saina to capitalise on that. She has beaten Okuhara, similarly she can also beat Tai Tzu. It is good for Saina to gain that confidence.