THE ACE TEAM

THE POWER SHUTTLERS

India Today - - OTHER NEWS MAKER - —Amar­nath K. Menon

For tak­ing the world bad­minton stage by storm and fea­tur­ing among the Top Five in both the women’s and men’s rank­ings, ex­hibit­ing the depth and breadth of tal­ent

Never in the an­nals of one-on-one sport in In­dia have play­ers ac­com­plished them­selves like the bad­minton aces did in 2017. For the first time, In­di­ans this year fea­tured among bad­minton’s world top five, both among men and women. The depth of tal­ent has been all ev­i­dent from the world rank­ings: P.V. Sindhu is cur­rently world no. 3; Saina Ne­hwal ranks 10; Ki­dambi Srikanth is world no. 4; and H.S. Pran­noy world no. 10. It was also the year when, for the first time, two In­di­ans, Sindhu and Saina, fin­ished at the podium at the World Cham­pi­onships.

All of them are un­der the tute­lage of a coach who is as

prag­matic as he is revered, Pul­lela Gopic­hand. The me­dian sin­gles rank of the top five In­dian play­ers has risen from 28 to 17 for men—the sharpest rise since 2010. Among women, the rise in the me­dian sin­gles rank has been rel­a­tively slower, from 57 in 2016 to 49 this year.

Gopic­hand’s care­fully crafted ap­proach helped the play­ers peak and ex­cel as in­di­vid­u­als. Sindhu, the 2016 Rio Olympics sil­ver medal­list, con­tin­ues to dis­play ex­em­plary con­sis­tency through her in­cred­i­ble run. Show­ing great form, she has beaten some of the best play­ers in the world fairly reg­u­larly. Sindhu was in­volved in some of the most in­tense matches of the year, in­clud­ing the epic World Bad­minton Cham­pi­onships fi­nal against No­zomi Okuhara at

For Sindhu, the quest for World No. 1 may not be an elu­sive dream in 2018 as age is on her side

Glas­gow in Au­gust and the BWF World Su­per Se­ries fi­nal against Akane Ya­m­aguchi in Dubai in De­cem­ber. Both the fi­nals went down to the wire as Sindhu en­gaged her ri­vals in a war of at­tri­tion be­fore los­ing out to better nerves.

Yet, at 22, with age on her side, Sindhu is fit, dis­plays dis­ci­pline and de­ter­mi­na­tion, and con­tin­ues to out­fox her ri­vals. For Sindhu, the quest to be World No. 1 may not be an elu­sive dream af­ter all. With im­proved stamina, she is poised to at­tain greater heights in 2018, in­clud­ing the World Cham­pi­onships, Com­mon­wealth Games and Asian Games.

Saina, 27, too, had a glo­ri­ous run this year. Though many peo­ple seem to think that the shut­tler is los­ing her killer in­stinct, she still com­mands a tow­er­ing pres­ence on the court, mak­ing her coun­try a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit.

Year 2017 has been a break­away year for the top male play­ers. For Ki­dambi Srikanth, 24, who earned more prize money than any In­dian has ever in a sin­gle year from bad­minton, the tri­umph—in­clud­ing four Su­per Se­ries wins—is just a step­ping stone for more lau­rels. He started his bril­liant ti­tle run by clinch­ing the men’s sin­gles ti­tle at the In­done­sia Su­per Se­ries and fol­lowed it up by win­ning the sin­gles Su­per Se­ries crowns in Aus­tralia, Den­mark and France. In be­tween, Srikanth also fin­ished run­ners-up to com­pa­triot B. Sai Pra­neeth in the Sin­ga­pore Su­per Se­ries. “What Srikanth has achieved is phe­nom­e­nal,” says Gopic­hand. “What he can achieve, con­sid­er­ing his po­ten­tial, is un­be­liev­able.”

Pran­noy, 25, beat both Olympic sil­ver medal­list Lee Chong Wei and Olympic cham­pion Chen Long in the In­done­sia Open this year. Srikanth went on to win the ti­tle af­ter Pran­noy lost in the semi-fi­nal to Ja­pan’s Kazu­masa Sakai. Be­sides Srikanth and Pran­noy, the rel­a­tively low ranked Pra­neeth, 25, too, brought ac­co­lades. Like Sindhu, Srikanth, Pran­noy and Pra­neeth are brac­ing for greater ac­com­plish­ments in 2018. But with the World Bad­minton Fed­er­a­tion man­dat­ing that the top 15 play­ers will have to take part in at least 12 tour­na­ments ev­ery year, the chal­lenge is bound to get stiffer.

RA­JAT GUPTA/EPA

CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES NET GAIN P.V. Sindhu cel­e­brates her women’s sin­gles ti­tle win at the 2017 Yonex In­dia Open Su­per Se­ries in New Delhi; Ki­dambi Srikanth in ac­tion dur­ing the 2017 Aus­tralian Bad­minton Open in Sydney

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