THE ACE TEAM
THE POWER SHUTTLERS
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.
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