Kidambi Srikanth And PV Sindhu Raise the Bar for Indian Badminton
Right at the start of 2017, what would have been the hopes of an average sports fan in India? Nothing much. Just continued greatness from Virat Kohli, titles from shuttler PV Sindhu, and a few good wins from Kidambi Srikanth. In a ‘sports glory’ starved nation, this is much more than one would ever need to keep the interest going. But what transpired this year, is nothing short of astonishing. The innumerable accolades only our shutters have managed win, have for sure, made them one of the most successful in the world.
In what was a landmark year for Indian badminton, Srikanth and Sindhu raised the bar, after scaling new heights. While the former won four Superseries titles— the most in a year —Sindhu returned with two Superseries titles, to go with silver medals at the World Championships and Dubai Superseries final. It all started with Sindhu’s exploits at the Indian Open Superseries in March. The lanky Hyderabadi was on a rampage, and swept through all her opponents with utmost ease. The best was reserved for the finals, where in a repeat of the Rio Olympics finals, she beat Spain’s Carolina Marin 21-19, 21-16.
And then it was the turn of Srikanth to win, whatever came his way. In almost four months he won as many tournaments, taking down some of the best shuttlers in the world. The first finals of the year for the Guntur lad was in Singapore Open, where he lost to compatriot B Sai Praneeth in the finals. Thereafter, he went on to win the Indonesia Open, Australia Open, Denmark Open and French Open.
Not just these two, but the year will be remembered for the exploits of HS Prannoy, and queen of Indian badminton Saina Nehwal. 2016 was far from being kind to the 27-year-old where she suffered a shock defeat to the world no. 61 Marija Ulitina, and also a severe knee injury.
The situation looked grim for her, and many feared that retirement was on the cards for her. In fact, Saina has herself admitted of getting disillusioned during the injury phase, and she wouldn’t be here if not for her parents.
At the end of it all, she did make a comeback, and how. She came up with a bronze medal at the Glasgow World Championships, beating the likes of Kirsty Gilmour and Sung Ji Hyun.
Homecoming for Saina
It was during the World Championships, when the world saw head coach Pullela Gopichand cheering for Saina from the stands. While there were only speculations about the girl returning to Hyderabad, to train under Gopichand again, an official word was yet to come. Soon after the tournament, the news was confirmed by her then coach Vimal Kumar. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that for the first time close to two years, the focus had shifted from Sindhu to Saina, and rightly so.
A lot was read between the lines, as to why Saina came back to Hyderabad. But the former world no 1. put to rest the debate in a dignified manner, citing ‘need to stay closer to home’ as the main reason. What also could have propelled her to taking this decision was the results Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo had given the past few months.
India Embraces Taufik Hidayat’s Coach
Early in 2017, the Indians shuttlers looked prone to getting injured, and there was a time in early February, when Srikanth, Prannoy and Praneeth, all were injured. Men’s singles was represented by Sameer Verma and Ajay Jayaram. The Indian think-tank faced an unprecedented situation. It was then that Indonesian coach Mulyo was called to India, and he gave results almost instantly. Right from changing the diets of the players, to harder training sessions, all these changes held the Indian shuttlers in good stead.
If the players are to be believed, they did face challenges adapting to the new system in place, but they had no other option of following it. Also, head coach Gopichand had reposed a lot of faith in the foreign coach that helped the shuttlers.
But as all good things come to an end, it was curtains for coach Mulyo towards the fag end of 2017. Rumour has it that Mulyo has gotten a better offer from a South Asian country, and he has accepted that.
Nationals Regains Lost Glory
This year saw the participation of the best Indian shuttlers in the Senior National Badminton Championship at Nagpur. The tournament was no less than an international event, because the star-power that participated. The final in the men’s singles saw HS Prannoy and Srikanth fight it out for the title. Prannoy won his first nationals title here, while it was Saina who defeated Sindhu in women’s singles, in straight games. Both unlikely winners, one must say.
But the biggest surprise of the tournament was junior world no. 3 Lakshya Sen’s performance. The 16-year-old made it to the semifinals, and lost to Srikanth. With this showing, he is already hailed as the next big thing in Indian badminton.
Doubles Taking a Step Forward
Not quite up there still, 2017 was the year when doubles badminton took a step in the right direction. There were a few formidable partnerships formed in mixed doubles and women’s doubles. Men’s doubles, out of the lot looked the most promising with the advent of Satwik Sairaj and Chirag Shetty. The duo won the Vietnam International Challenge and reached the quarterfinals of Korea Open. To go with it Satwik had a great partnership in mixed doubles with Ashwini Ponnappa, and both secured a semis berth in Dutch Open.
Barring the results, the biggest change brought in by Malaysian coach Kim Tan Her was that, doubles be treated with equal importance in the country, and winning titles might take some time coming. The Malaysian stuck to the teams without any chopping and changing, whatever the results might be. At the junior level, he called for specialised doubles players, which wasn’t the case earlier.