Ajay Jayaram is part of a 21-member Indian contingent of shuttlers at the Total BWF World Championships 2017. The world No. 17 is among four in the men’s singles draw at the Glasgow competition next week -- other team-mates are K. Srikanth, Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma. Injuries have forced Jayaram to train against sparring partners in Mumbai’s Goregaon Sports Club at his own pace while other national team-mates are preparing at the camp in Hyderabad.
Placed in the singles draw among a heavyweight opponent in China’s Cheng Long (world No.5), the 29-year-old Mumbai-based player is working himself back to fitness and form which earned him stunning wins over Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen (Malaysian Open Super Series) and China’s Tian Houwei (Badminton Asia Championships) this season.
Here are the excerpts from a chat with the 29-year-old talking about the Indian presence at the World’s.
Four Indians figure in a World Championships men’s singles draw. How did it happen?
It is not a big surprise. Over the past few years, Indian presence in men’s singles has been growing steadily. Initially, women players got the limelight, due to Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu winning titles. Now Srikanth, H. S. Prannoy, Sai Praneeth and myself are doing pretty well on the world stage.
Every now and then, you see someone playing the final and winning. The limit for every country is three, if all three are in top 24. There is a chance of getting through from the reserve, which is what happened in Sameer’s (Verma) case in the main draw.
Can you explain the reasons for Srikanth and others doing so well at the international level?
I don’t train with them (Srikanth and Prannoy) to explain why they are doing well. When there is competition within, each one tried to outdo the other, resulting in rise in levels. It could be one of the reasons.
A huge Indian team, men and women, will be at the World’s this time. Each performer in the squad has qualified as per BWF stipulations…
Indian badminton is a force to reckon with. We cannot be taken lightly any more. Seven players figuring in men’s singles top 50 is the highest by any nation, even ahead of China. Only four qualify, so Prannoy, P. Kashyap or Sourabh Verma were not included in the main draw.
How did you make it to world’s top 20 (17th in latest rankings men’s singles ranking and a career high of 13)?
I have been training for the longest time with Tom John in Portugal (former national coach) and when he moved to Bengaluru, I joined him there. I was earlier with the Prakash Padukone Academy. From 2010 onwards, I started working with John and found a lot of changes in my game, I became much more aggressive. I am continuing the same sort of training regimen. For me to reach this level has not been easy. Initially there were injuries and other roadblocks. Looking back I am happy to have made it to the men’s top 15. There is still some distance to go.
Can you explain the logic behind training quietly in Mumbai (Goregaon Sports Club), far away from the national camp in Hyderabad where others are sweating it out?
I was away from home a long time, so at some point I wanted to return to Mumbai. GSC is a venue where all the top players spar. I come thrice a week for sparring sessions with them. Anand (Pawar), Kaushal (Dharmamer) are there, occasionally Harsheel (Dani) comes, the facilities are good so it helps.
In the 2017 Premier Badminton League (PBL) you were sensational for Mumbai Rockets. Any spin-offs await the Glasgow event after playing and winning against world pros?
PBL has helped us financially and raise our popularity. It is hard to form a link between PBL performance and the World Championships. The pros we compete against are those whom we meet at every Super Series event. At the end of the day, the World Championships is an individual tournament. It will be me against someone else. I hope India can return with few medals.
2017 season resulted in upset wins by you on the circuit (over Axelsen and Houwei) in the lead up to the World Championships. What do you expect to do in Glasgow?
More than 2017, I feel 2016 was really good for me. 2017 was PBL and Malaysian Open. I faced injury issues at the back of my knee which affected my training a bit. I am hoping my fortunes will change at the World Championships.
Any specifics to your game you are working on pertaining to the World’s?
I need to be more patient. I tend to be hasty when it comes to winning rallies. As long as the flow is good, it goes well, but the moment someone retrieves I struggle a bit. I am trying to work on that aspect. I am getting my fitness back to former levels and will take it one round at a time, get over the first hurdles before looking at Chen. I have to definitely be at my best to get past each rival, as there are no easy games there.
INDIA MEN ON A HIGH
Seven Indian men in world’s top 50 ranked players on the Badminton World Federation list, as on August 8, are: K. Srikanth (world number eight), H. S. Prannoy (15), Ajay Jayaram (17), Sai Praneeth (19), Sameer Verma (29), Sourabh Verma (32) and P. Kashyap (46).