‘I Thought My Career was Over’

‘I Thought My Career was Over’

Arnaud Merkle has always been driven by his passion for badminton.

Yet, a challenge threatened to shatter his dreams – a relic from birth that plagued his every lunge and step on court.

“I was born with an extra bone that was disturbing my deep lunges and movement,” Merkle, the 2018 men’s singles European junior champion, explained.

As he pushed harder, the discomfort escalated into excruciating pain, jeopardising his ability to continue playing pain-free.

“I had an inflammatory reaction. It was getting tougher and tougher,” recalled the world No.44.

After losing a gruelling three-gamer to Kidambi Srikanth in the round of 16 of HYLO Open 2022, the Frenchman found himself unable to walk for two days. Determined to salvage his career, he sought medical counsel, which led to a definitive solution – surgery to excise the troublesome bone in December 2022, marking the turning point in his journey.

Merkle was positive and remained motivated throughout his recovery after his hip operation.

Although conventional recovery timelines seemed daunting, Merkle’s hip surgeon offered a glimmer of hope, estimating a five-month rehabilitation period for an athlete like him.

“It took four months and a week,” Merkle reflected on his remarkable rebound. However, the initial stages of his return to the court were far from flawless. “My level was not perfect in the beginning. I was keeping myself motivated all the time. Badminton is everything to me.”

Supported by a dedicated team of specialists and the backing of the French Badminton Federation, Merkle embarked on an arduous path to redemption. Doubt loomed large, threatening to derail his aspirations.

“At one point I thought my career was over.” he confessed. “It was easy in the beginning. I had 12 days of full rest, then the stitches removed. I could see my progress every two to three days. Suddenly, things slowed down.”

The 23-year-old refused to yield to despair.

“With hard work and constant grinding, I kept believing in myself, I knew I would move forward,” he asserted, drawing strength from his resilience.

Merkle’s first tournament back was the Spain Masters 2023, a little over four months later. He won his opening match against countryman Brice Leverdez but withdrew in the second round. The Ugandan International Challenge champion went on to feature at Mexican International Challenge 2023 where he exited in the quarterfinals. Today, he plays “without pain”.

Merkle remains resolute, envisioning a future where he could dictate his tournament choices and more favourable draws.

“The main goal is to be in the top 32 in the world,” he says.

Merkle is back on the HSBC BWF World Tour hoping to break into the top 32.

“The long-term vision is to win a medal at the Olympics or the World Championships.”

On the trajectory of French badminton, Merkle exuded optimism with players like Christo Popov, Toma Junior Popov and Alex Lanier doing well for themselves in recent times.

“It’s heading in the right direction. The Olympics will be exciting to watch this year in my home country,” he mused.