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With Olympics at stake, Jayaram hungry for success

By Aruneel Sadadekar
February 26, 2016 12:59 IST
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'I'm least bothered about the rankings of Kashyap or Srikanth. I want to make it on my own by winning titles/'

India shuttler Ajay Jayaram tells Aruneel Sadadekar/ about how he plans to make it to the Rio Olympics.

Ajay Jayaram

IMAGE: Ajay Jayaram. Photograph: Indian Badminton League

Four years ago, Ajay Jayaram was considered a certainty to represent India at the London Olympics, but lost out narrowly to compatriot Parupalli Kashyap.

At that time, the Mumbai shuttler had a better ranking than Kashyap, but an early exit from the Indian Open, where the Hyderabadi made the semi-finals, left Jayaram's dream of qualifying for the Games in tatters.

Currently ranked 25 in the world, the 28 year old faces a more difficult task to qualify for the Rio Olympics, and will have to come up with wonderful results to pip either Kashyap (ranked 17), H S Prannoy (27) or top-ranked male shuttler Kidambi Srikanth (9) for one of the two Olympic quota berths up for grabs.

Jayaram spoke to Aruneel Sadadekar/ about his preparation for the All England Championships (March 8 to 13) and his plans to make it to Rio.

You narrowly missed qualifying for the London Olympics.

I was extremely disheartened. I was confident of making it to the Olympics. But that one tournament changed it all!

I decided to bounce back after the Olympics and reached the semi-finals of the China Masters Super Series.

Ajay Jayaram

IMAGE: Ajay in the 2015 Viktor Korea Badminton Open in Seoul, September 20, 2015. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

You are currently ranked 25. How do you plan to ensure qualification for the Olympics?

These next 2, 3 months are probably the most important phase of my badminton career. May 1 will be the last day of qualification for the Olympics.

My coach Tom John and I have chalked out a strategy. I will participate in 6, 7 world-class tournaments, and a positive result in one of those will surely boost my rankings remarkably.

I have a good two weeks of training before heading to the All England Championships. Winning it has been a long-time goal, and right now I am focusing on it.

After that, I will compete at the Swiss Open, then the three Super Series in India, Malaysia and Singapore.

Depending on the results, I will decide if I want to compete at the Asian Championships and China Masters.

Among the quartet that includes you, Srikanth, Kashyap and H S Prannoy, only you train in Bengaluru while the rest train with national coach Pullela Gopichand in Hyderabad. Does it give a significant advantage to the other three?

(Laughs) Well, he (Gopi) is a world-class coach. But I have always been training in Bengaluru. You can look at it from both ways.

As he is the national coach, I have access to his coaching and can visit him whenever I want to. Plus, he accompanies us during tournaments, so I get regular feedback from him.

In addition, I am fortunate to be trained by my coach John, who is an Indian but has been the national coach in England and Portugal. I have a superb rapport with him. Vimal Kumar sir is also there in Bengaluru to help me out when needed.

The only thing I miss is sparring (practice games) with the other three (Srikanth, Kashyap and Prannoy). I have to overcome it by playing 2 versus 1 or even 3 versus 1 in Bengaluru. The junior players who are training here (Bengaluru) are good.

Ajay Jayaram

IMAGE: Ajay is working on improving his defence. Photograph: Indian Badminton League

Jwala Gutta has raised this 'conflict of interest' issue before. Do you think it is unfair on you that the national coach is the personal coach of your compatriots?

This is something I have chosen. There are positives and negatives to everything.

My partnership with John is working out well. I had a satisfactory year in 2015. I reached the final of the Korea Open Super Series after which I defended my title at the Denmark Open. I don't want to comment on anything else.

Srikanth and Kashyap were among the top 10 in the world rankings until recently. Now injury has seen Kashyap's ranking drop to 17. Is it to your advantage?

(Laughs) Not at all! I don't want to qualify like this and never thought about it. Injuries are unprecedented and unfortunate for every sportsperson.

I am least bothered about the rankings of Kashyap or Srikanth. I want to make it on my own by winning titles.

Tell us about your training regime.

The focus is to improve my consistency and also to improve my defence.

My coach John says I can beat anyone in the world if I improve my defence.

It is a hectic two months with a series of tournaments. The aim is to strengthen my core muscles and remain fit in order to sustain my body till the Olympics.

I train for 6, 7 hours daily, which also includes mental conditioning to handle pressure situations.

We have been given a diet plan, but when I am on tour, it is difficult to follow it devotedly. I have a very good metabolism and stay away from junk food to maintain my body weight.

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Aruneel Sadadekar /