For almost a month before Ajay Jayaram begins his BWF World Championship campaign in Glasgow, his practice session at the North Indian Club in Mumbai began by supervising the mopping of the court that has footprints of the workers renovating the changing rooms. He would then explain local coach Jitesh Padukone every multi-shuttle drill he wants to work on during the next two hours.
It probably isn’t the ideal way to prepare for such a major competition when his other compatriots were training under the supervision of chief national coach Pullela Gopichand and Indonesia’s Mulyo Handoyo in Hyderabad with a battery of feeders, trainers and support staff while the world number 17 has to travel to three different places almost 20 kilometres apart to get sparring, stroke practice, and physical training sessions.
The 29-year-old admits as much but insists that at his age he felt that the comfort of being at home after being away for over 15 years provides the mental stability and relaxation he requires to give his 100 per cent on the court.
The move from Bangalore, where he trained under Tom John, to Mumbai at the start of the year worked well for Ajay as he reached a career high ranking of 13 in April before a knee injury pegged him back thereafter.
“I would say I was in good form until a few months back, but sadly the last few months I haven’t been able to train much because I have injured my knee,” he told the Field. “I have been able to put some more effort and the knee is holding up well. So, hopefully I can change my form and hopefully things can get back on track at the World Championships.
“Even when you are going through a bad patch, the trick is to keep working harder and harder. [With] a couple of good wins, you get back [your] form and confidence. That’s the key [to success].”
For that, Ajay first needs to hit the ground running in his opening encounter against world number 114 Luka Wraber of Austria on Tuesday before aiming for bigger goals in his fourth appearance in the World Championship. His first came way back in 2011 in London where he reached the pre-quarters and still remains his best ever performance in the flag-ship event so far. He may have to negotiate the challenge of defending champion Chen Long at the same stage this year if he wants to improve on that record and cement his place in the top bracket of successful Indian shuttlers.
Dutch Open success and injuries
Jayaram isn’t a mere journeyman on the circuit and has the distinction of being the second Indian to reach a Superseries final in 2015. He also has two Dutch Grand Prix titles to show for his effort.
But, the only Indian shuttler from outside the Gopichand Academy stable in top-50 in world ranking has been unlucky at times with injuries or the rub of the green not going his way.
The Indian Oil employee spent a considerable amount of money in 2010-’11 to help him rise in the ranking as he chased a 2012 London Olympic berth. He looked destined to make it to his first Olympics as the only Indian as he led P Kashyap by about 1000 points going into the final tournament before the end of the qualification cycle.
But as luck would have it, Ajay lost a three-game encounter against world number one Lee Chong Wei while Kashyap received a walk-over in the quarter-finals from Chen Jin, who decided to not aggravate his wrist injury after his own qualification was assured by the loss of Dane Peter Gade a few minutes earlier.
He was also in the running for the Indian squad for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Rio Olympics but injuries ruled him out of both the events.
“Somehow for me, it was just a professional glitch – one of a roadblock that’s all about it,” shared Ajay about missing these tournaments which sportspersons eagerly wait for. “But, that’s sports and life I guess. So, if you look at it that way, it’s kind of sad. But, if you look at how much I have done in the past couple of years I don’t think I have too much to complain about. I have got a lot of opportunities which others don’t have. So, in that sense I am quite positive about it [my career], still.”
Role of parents and training outside national camp
Ajay’s parents have played a very important role in getting him back on track after every failure or injury since his childhood and it is their emotional support that probably made the 29-year-old shift back home to Mumbai as he looks to compete against the younger lot working hard in the national camp.
“I am here only because of them (my parents). Right from the time I have joined badminton, they have been my biggest pillars. It would be hard to imagine me actually reaching this level of playing without their support,” he explains.
His father Jayaram Gopal was the one to back his son’s choice to pursue a career in badminton despite being pretty good in academics and opting for a science stream in junior college. The family also dipped into their savings to initially help him break into the top tier of world badminton as he had opted to train outside the national camp with Tom John.
Explaining the rationale behind that decision, Ajay says, “When I was just starting my journey in the senior circuit I had gone to Portugal to train where Tom sir was the coach and his methods really worked for me. His training has a very high intensity and I like that and so I stuck with him.”
Under him Ajay also got into the habit of planning his training sessions, something that is helping him train in Mumbai with the help of a regular coach. “I think over the years I have garnered enough amount of experience to actually make such decisions. I feel I kind of like that I can dictate my sessions to an extent and change things as and when I please.”
Though an introvert by nature, Ajay insists that he was never a “eat, drink, live badminton” type of person and loves to take off for solo trips or trekking expeditions. In Mumbai, he has also managed to pursue the other hobby of sketching and has been working on drawing 3-D sketches as he recovered from his injuries. “It is something I do to unwind and I really like it. There is no set time that I give to sketching but every time I want to relax, I tend to sit down and do it.”
But for the last few weeks, Ajay has only focused on sketching the right preparation path to ensure that he is at his best at the World Championship.
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