HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth have not had the best of seasons if you compare it with their 2017 performance. But India’s top two men’s singles badminton players are not worried about their dip in form.

2017 was a wonder year for Srikanth as he became only the fourth player in the world to win four or more Superseries titles in a season. Prannoy, too, did not have a bad year, winning the US Open and the senior nationals – in which he beat Srikanth in the final – and reaching the semi-finals of two Superseries tournaments.

Comparatively, 2018 has been rather ordinary. Srikanth’s best result is a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, which had a depleted field. In BWF World Tour tournaments, he has managed to reach just one semi-final.

Prannoy, on the other hand, got a bronze at the Badminton Asia Championships but has reached only one quarter-final on the BWF World Tour. Both shuttlers crashed out in the second round of the Asian Games last month.

While some Indian badminton fans may have hit the panic button, Srikanth and Prannoy are not fazed. “It’s just a difficult phase,” Srikanth told Scroll.in, before he left for the Japan Open starting on Tuesday. “It’s been a very packed calendar this year with the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games added to it, so it’s not been easy on the body. We have been working hard in training and should start getting results soon.”

Change in training

Prannoy, who has dropped out of the world’s top 10, admitted that the departure of Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo from the Indian national camp at the end of last season has also affected how he and Srikanth have been training this year. The two shuttlers have been trying out new things in training, which has in turn impacted their on-court performance.

“You cannot do the same things over the years, even if you are performing well,” Prannoy said. “Probably last year we had a different kind of strategy with Mulyo – it was probably working out. But now we’ve had a couple of changes in the training schedule and for me, individually, there were so many physical issues in the beginning of the season.”

Prannoy had been troubled with foot injuries towards the end of last season and the beginning of 2018, which affected his endurance training. Srikanth too had withdrawn from the Thomas Cup and the Thailand Open earlier this year with injury.

“We had reduced our physical activity and were trying more on on-court things,” Prannoy said. “Probably that wasn’t working well, and we needed to go back to working on our physical aspect. It’s just a phase where you try so many things – some work, some don’t. It’s important to have such phases so that you actually know what works well for you and what doesn’t. Probably it wasn’t the right time to try something new with the world championships and Asian Games back-to-back.”

The last few months have been difficult to deal with, said Prannoy, who failed to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. Describing how this phase has been, he said, “When you’re going through a tough period, sometimes you feel you’re just following the shuttle, with no strategy. When you are playing well, the tournament starts in the quarter-finals. But now, the first round is only tough.”

However, both shuttlers feel it’s a matter of time before they get through this transition phase and are back to winning ways. “Once you win a couple of matches, everything falls into place,” said Srikanth, whose ranking has dropped to eighth in the world after reaching the pinnacle in April.

‘No one is unbeatable’

Prannoy and Srikanth are both playing in the Japan Open this week, where world champion Kento Momota is one of the favourites on home turf. After returning to the circuit following his year-long suspension for illegal gambling, the Japanese has lit the stage on fire, winning the world championships, the Asian championships and the Indonesian Open, while he finished runner-up at the Malaysian Open.

World No 1 Viktor Axelsen and All England Open champion Shi Yuqi are also strong contenders for the Japan Open and China Open titles over the next two weeks, but Prannoy believes no one on the men’s circuit is unbeatable.

“Momota is going to get even more tough in the coming days, while Viktor and Shi Yuqi are also probably at a higher level but the next 15-20 players are all at the same level,” Prannoy said. “But even these guys, you don’t feel they are extraordinary. They are beatable.”

Prannoy added that Indian fans are always quick to compare their shuttlers to those from other countries who are winning consistently, but it’s important to gauge the circumstances and external factors. “Someone like Momota has been away for one year and he is in that state of mind where he really wants to win,” Prannoy said.

“Even we need that kind of a break sometime. Till December it might be a bit tough for us to play all these tournaments and get results, but after that it should be fine. 2019 will be a little freer for us. We can sit and plan which tournaments to play. God-willing it will be much better,” he added.