INDIAN MEN'S BADMINTON: MAKE OR BREAK TIME
Which nation has the most number of players in the Men's top 100 of badminton?
China? 不 (Bu).
Who then? India?
Believe it or not, Indian men's shuttlers occupy THIRTEEN (13) places in the top 100 as of September 14th 2017! Five more than Malaysia & Denmark, SIX more than CHINA(!!), Indonesia & Japan. What a sea of change from the time when we had just 2 real world class players for the entirety of the previous millennium, one of whom is now more famous for being the father of a Bollywood actress instead of his special achievements on court.
|WE'RE COMING FOR YOU CHINA!|
2017 has been one mighty fine year for Indian men. Other than a slightly disappointing outing at the World Championships in Glasgow, Indian men have won 3 out of the 7 Super Series Opens held so far. Sai Praneeth and Srikanth Kidambi created history in Singapore by playing the first ever All-India men's Super Series final. They became just the 4th pair* from the same country to contest a Super Series (or their predecessors) finals after China, Malaysia & Indonesia in the last 25 years.
H. S. Prannoy & Srikanth scored their first wins over reigning Olympic champion Chen "Little Dan" Long in Indonesia & Australia respectively. Prannoy was also hugely impressive in defeating Malaysian superstar Lee Chong Wei. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it a second All-India final in a row, losing to Kazumasa Sakai in 3 tight games dropping 5 match points.
Srikanth Kidambi is by far the most talented and successful of the lot. After his earth shattering defeat of (5 time winner) Super Dan in the 2014 China Open, Srikanth has struggled a bit with injuries. He was ranked no 3 in 2015. He seems to have put his injury woes behind and has won a tour leading 2 Super Series titles. He also leads the tour with 3 overall finals appearances losing to his compatriot Sai Praneeth in Singapore. He has wins over all the top players (Lin Dan, Chen Long, Axelsen, Jorgensen, Son Wan Ho etc) bar Lee Chong Wei. He seems to possess that extra gear, the X-factor most champion players do. Given how Lin Dan (34) & Lee Chong Wei (35) are still at the top of the game, let's hope Sri, about four and a half months from his 25th birthday, has his best decade ahead of him. Currently ranked 8th, he is the only Indian in the top 10. Srikanth also leads in the Destination Dubai Rankings (to qualify for the BWF Masters Super Series finals) by about 4000 points ahead of number 2 Chen Tien Chou.
Sai Praneeth (16), Ajay Jayaram (17), H.S. Prannoy (18) are the 3 of the 4 players ranked in the top 20. Ajay turned 30 this year so he's probably in the final stages of his career. Sai Praneeth & Prannoy are both 25 and in their prime. Prannoy seems to have put his injury struggles behind this year. He most impressed in Indonesia defeating Lee Chong Wei & Chen Long back to back. As mentioned earlier Sai Praneeth won his 1st Super Series title this year.
Sameer Verma (25) is the youngest (22 years old) player in the top 25. He reached his first Super Series final in Hong Kong last year. He was one game away from reaching the semis of the Korea Open but lost to world no 1 Son Wan Ho. He lacks the size (5'7") of the others but makes it up with tremendous speed and agility. A real Boris Becker on the badminton court. His elder brother, by 2 years, Sourabh Verma is another professional badminton player who is ranked 37 currently but was ranked as high as 30.
The forgotten man today in Indian badminton is Parupalli Kashyap. He became the first Indian male shuttler to reach the Olympic quarterfinal in London. Unfortunately, he has been plagued by injuries in the last 5 years. Currently ranked 45, Kashyap is slowly working his way back into the game. He must draw inspiration from fellow veteran 30+ year olds Lee Chong Wei & Lin Dan to turn the clock back.
That summarizes our contenders in world badminton. Clearly, the depth has never been greater but our shuttlers are yet to become ruthless like great champions. The boys are going deeper & further than ever but lack that killer instinct to land the final blow. Having said that it is great that we are getting there. It is imperative to learn from this. This is why the next 2-3 years ending at Tokyo 2020 are absolutely crucial in the development of the sport. There are 2 world championships and the Olympic golds for the taking. As the sport grows so should the aspirations. We must aim for at least 5 medals out of the 11 available in these 3 premier tournaments. Of the 36 Super Series titles, we must aim to win at least 15 titles. The higher we aim the better. It's okay to land in the sky aiming for the stars! Such a successful era can have a positive effect in not only badminton but also other Olympic sports. Nothing begets success like success.
|A True Guru|
Finally a word to the silent hand behind all this: Pullela Gopichand, one of two Indians to win the prestigious All-England championships. As is the characteristic of all gurus, he has dispelled much of the darkness that spread over Indian badminton. The academy has produced great results in both singles disciplines. The academy is also not without flaws. There is not much success in the 3 doubles disciplines. There is room for improvement everywhere.
A most crucial 1000 days for Indian badminton. It can be the difference between being a David Ferrer and Roger Federer. Let's hope the foursome, with a little help from Sindhu, push the boundaries so far that Badminton displaces Cricket as the nation's biggest religion!
*- Unable to find source to confirm this. Going by the hazy memory of what the commentator said during Singapore Open final.