Interview with Ajay Jayaram: "There is healthy competition among the Indian men's shuttlers"
Ajay Jayaram talks about his early years, the India Badminton League and the role played by badminton academies.
Currently ranked 36th in the world, Ajay Jayaram showed incredible character last year, by winning the Dutch Open title, after a seven-month absence from the game due to injury. Prior to that title, the 27-year-old Chennai-born shuttler had also secured victories at the New Zealand Open in 2009, the Thailand Open in 2010 and at the Czech Open in 2013.
Sportskeeda caught up with him for a chat and asked his about his early days, the role played by his current coach Tom John and the recent resurgence in the India’s men shuttlers.
Q: When did you first develop an interest in badminton?
A: As a kid, I was always enthusiastic about sports, in general, and my father also recognized this. He wanted me to learn a sport and it’s just so happened that there was a club very close to our residence and badminton coaching would take place there and he enrolled me there and once I started playing, it was pretty much love at first sight. In the early days, I really caught on with it and it just developed from there.
Q: Growing up, whom did you consider your role model?
A: For a long time it was and still is Prakash Padukone. I also had the chance to train under him at his academy for about 5-6 years. Just to be around him is an inspiration, the way he conducted himself. In many ways, he is an ideal role model.
Q: You are currently training under Tom John, who had earlier coached the England badminton team as well, at the Tom John academy. What improvements have you seen since you began working with him?
A: I actually heard about him when he was coaching in Hyderabad for a brief one-year period. I heard of him and he is quite unique with his methods. The first time I got the chance to train with him was when he came to Bengaluru for a week in 2010 and I liked some of his routines. I was struggling with my game as well.
I was languishing in the 60’s and 70’s in the rankings. He was the national coach of Portugal at the time and he asked me to come and train for a couple of months.
He also set up me up with a club in France and I could set my base in Portugal and play for the club and play a few tournaments as well. I took a chance and went there and it paid off very well. My rankings improved dramatically within a span of 3 months and I was into the thirties in the rankings. I think he manages to get the best out of you if you really put in your 100% and so that way it really helped me.
Q: In 2013, you were part of the Indian Badminton League and you were also part of the victorious campaign for the Hyderabad Hotshots as well. Personally, how much did you learn from that League?
A: I think it was a different experience as compared to the normal tournaments that we play because generally, the focus is just on individuals and the competitions would last for a week. But this was different because we would play one match as a team in one city and travel again as a team to another city and it was quite hectic as well for that duration of almost 3 weeks.
But it was a wonderful experience and I’ve never seen that kind of response for badminton in India or even globally. It was also extremely beneficial financially for everyone. It brought about a big interest among the general public and that served as a big motivation for us as well. So it’s a bit sad that it isn’t happening and if we continue with it, I think it would be great for Indian badminton.
Q: India’s women shuttlers have done well over a considerable amount of time now. But recently we have seen a resurgence in the men shuttlers as well. The likes of yourself, K Srikanth is in the top 5, there is also HS Prannoy. What do you think have been the key reasons the improvement in the performance of the men’s shuttlers as well?
A:: It’s hard to pinpoint one particular reason. But yes there has been a big change. In the past, there were 3 players at the top and then we as juniors, took over the baton and broke into the top 20 and now Srikanth has taken it to a completely new level by breaking into the top 5. So this is just growing and there are 6-7 of us in the top 50 which I think is huge by Indian badminton standards. It Is just that there is very healthy competition among the Indian men’s singles shuttlers and I think that is the biggest boost and has helped to take the game further.
Q: You spoke about working at the Prakash Padukone Badminton academy, there are few other academies like the Tom John academy and there is also the Pullela Gopichand academy. How big a role, have the development of these academies in India, played in nurturing youngsters and making them more well-rounded players?
A; I think they have definitely, played a big role. That’s the reason why we have been doing so well. Initially, we had the Prakash Padukone academy that began in the 90’s and we got a lot of players out of that including Mr Gopichand, who has his own academy now which is flourishing. I think the growth of the number of such academies will be crucial in getting India to the coveted number one position.