Kidambi Srikanth isn't a big fan of the staid, garden-variety in-flight entertainment options. He'd rather skim through YouTube for a feel-good Telugu movie. His flight out of Jakarta is still a good hour and a half away and his mind is playfully toying with 'what-to-watch' ideas while waiting alone at the Seokarna-Hatta airport terminal.
It's also the perfect time for a fairly long call.
Two of his teammates, whom he'd arrived with a fortnight ago at the Asian Games, progressed to the business end of the draw and made history, with coach Pulella Gopichand in his monk-like calm around at the changeover to offer a kind word or a consoling arm, rev up spirits with double-clenched fists and keep hopes at the brim.
The world no.8 Indian's chances though were doused early in the singles event, and the other male singles player from the country, HS Prannoy, also kept stride with him to the exit. Barring the Commonwealth Games in April where he won an individual silver, Srikanth's year so far doesn't hold a candle to his sharp, luminous showing of four Super Series titles last year.
He isn't worried or upset but there's a smidgen of concern.
"It's definitely not been one of the best years but again I'm happy with the way I've been playing and the effort I've been putting in," Srikanth tells ESPN. "It's just that I'm not able to pull off matches but that's something that happens to every player at some point of time. I'll have to keep training hard and find ways to overcome it. I've been talking to Gopi bhaiya about this, but somehow nothing has been working for me so far."
He knows it's been a bland year. His win-loss record this year stands an uninspired 13-6, and there's no silverware to show for his BWF circuit outings. In many ways, he knows he's brought it upon himself - the creaking weight of expectation that is a corollary to superlative performances. "People definitely expect me to do well. I can't really blame them. That's how it is." It's in times such as these that he looks to idol Roger Federer for life sessions. "You know when Federer goes into a Grand Slam, you, me, everyone expect him to win and he's been so consistent, not letting that pressure get to him. That's what makes him a great player. That's something that I've not been able to do."
But Srikanth knows that all it will take to fix everything that's on a downward spiral right now is one big win. He's not hurting from the early pack-up from Jakarta and laughs impishly to suggest that he wasn't the only player to take a hard blow. "You know it's not the end of the world....it's not that if I had won a medal at this Games I would have retired. Neither of the men's World Championship finalists made it to the Asian Games final....not even (Kento) Momota."
Srikanth's slip in form also coincided with the exit of Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, who's credited with introducing endurance-intensive training methods which bore instant results for the Indian singles players. Handoyo's philosophy though, Srikanth says, hasn't been abandoned. Under his watch Srikanth had his most successful run last year - winning four out of five Superseries finals, while Prannoy broke into the top 10 and B Sai Praneeth won his maiden Superseries title. "In terms of results, I think his (Handoyo's) absence does make a difference. He brought in a kind of change that worked well for everyone. I'm still in touch with him. But as a player at the highest level, you can't depend so much on your coach. You cannot attribute all your wins nor blame all your losses on a coach."
We fall, so we can pick ourselves up again. Not happy with my performance but I promise to return stronger and bring pride to our nation once again. Thank you all for supporting me. pic.twitter.com/cB6PVCIkFr
- Kidambi Srikanth (@srikidambi) 25 August 2018
Over the next three months, Srikanth has seven tournaments, starting with the Japan Open and he's hoping that fate will be kinder. "I have to keep working hard. I can't give up at any point and then say that 'I worked hard but couldn't do well'. Also it's now so much more competitive with guys like Momota around, so it's just not me playing mediocre, it's about others being quite exceptional too."
Much like his long, dull solo flight back home, Srikanth knows he'll also survive this bald patch of results. "It's probably time I look back and analyse things and perform. That's all I can think of," he says.
For the next couple of hours at least, a good movie should see him through.