Kiran George was a frustrated player in the first half of the year. He lost five of the six matches he played from January to May, even failing to make the main draw at times, let alone reaching the business end of tournaments. His performance plunged, and with it his confidence.
Then came the Thailand Open in May-June where Kiran won five of the six matches (three in qualifying) to reach the quarter-finals of the Super 500 event. It was the turnaround he needed, and the 23-year-old son of former national champion George Thomas didn’t look back as he kept delivering.
Kiran reached the semis of the Maldives International Challenge in June and maintained the momentum to claim his first title of the year at the $100,000 Indonesia Masters in Medan on Sunday. A product of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), Kiran beat Japan’s Koo Takahashi 21-19, 22-20 in the final. This is Kiran’s second Super 100 title, having won the Odisha Open in Cuttack in January 2022.
“Before Thailand his performance had dipped drastically. Thailand Open was a confidence booster. He had good wins in the qualifying rounds,” Sagar Chopda, Kiran’s coach, said from Medan. But it was beating Weng Hongyang and former All England champion Shi Yuqi, both from China, that did the world No.50 a world of good.
To up his performances on court, Kiran also started focussing on off-court routines. He became more disciplined about his diet that was closely monitored by his coaches. Coming from Kerala, he loves his curries and biryani, but Kiran has had to stay away from his favourite dishes for the last few months to boost his badminton.
“Initially it was annoying for him, but he realised how important it is for him. The change also helped in increasing his endurance levels,” says Chopda, who has trained Kiran for the last five years at PPBA.
A quiet person who mostly keeps to himself or interacts only with his select group of friends, Kiran also sought the help of a mental health expert. At a time when his peers –academy friend Lakshya Sen, best friend Mithun Manjunath and Priyanshu Rajawat –were coming up the ladder, the success of his friends must have played at the back of his mind, especially when his own performances were on a downward spiral.
“What is important is how you deal with it. He has the potential, is a deceptive player especially from the back, hitting downward strokes has really helped him of late. Significantly, he has worked on his defence, put in a lot of hours, the result of which is visible now. He has really improved. He has started using his defence to get into offensive mode,” says Chopda.
Kiran comes from a family of badminton players. His father won the men’s singles as well as the doubles titles at the nationals. His mother Preetha was a state level player. Elder brother Arun is also an international who is a doubles specialist.
Kiran, who is part of the government’s TOPS developmental scheme, hopes to take the family legacy forward by winning more and bigger tournaments, starting with the Hong Kong Open from Tuesday.