There is no doubt that 2015 was, in every way, the most remarkable year internationally for Indian badminton. And as usual, it was the hard working and extremely fit Saina Nehwal who ruled the roost and created history in her own way.
Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. Pic/ Agencies
She won the Syed Modi Memorial, the India Open and all her matches in the Sudirman Cup. This was expected, but Saina then became the first Indian player to reach a world championships finals and first Indian female player to reach finals at the All England.
Carolina Marin defeated her on both occasions. Although Saina could not win any of the big titles and this caused her to lose the World No 1 rank for some weeks. According to the BWF website, she also crossed $600,000 (R3.9 crore approximately) in prize money.
PV Sindhu, did well enough to win the Macau Grand Prix Gold title third time in a row, defeating two dangerous Japanese shuttlers Akane Yamaguchi and Minatsu Mitani. Though she was inconsistent in the year, losing out in early rounds of many events, Sindhu did create a flutter when she gate-crashed into the finals of the Denmark Open, defeating Carolina Marin, the World and All England champion, Wang Yihan of China and the indomitable Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei. Reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui also tasted defeat when Sindhu hammered her at the World Championships.
Saina and Sindhu did their best to ensure Indian badminton continued its great progress at the world level. This was anticipated since the two girls have been world-beaters for the past several years.
Jayaram’s surprise win
An unexpected bonus came from the under-rated Ajay Jayaram, who had a great run at the Korean Open, reaching the finals and this helped him leap to 21 in world rankings. Most importantly, India had its first ever title at Grand Prix level when Manu Attri/B Sumeeth Reddy won the Mexico Open and reached a high 17th rank at the end of the year. Both Jayaram and the Attri/Reddy pair have now a chance of qualifying for the Rio Olympics, which will be the mother of all games in 2016.
So what does 2016 have in store for our shuttlers? There is no doubt that the Indians are poised to continue their remarkable run. At the beginning of the year, we have Saina/Sindhu in the top 15 rankings. In the men’s singles, K Srikanth is at No 9 and Parupalli Kashyap at 15th spot. We have another four players in the top 50, a remarkable achievement in itself. In no other sport does India dominate like this. Given the fantastic career graph of Saina and Sindhu, one can safely say that one of them is good for gold at Rio. Though it all depends on the day and their form. Both these players have defeated every formidable rival one can think of, though both will be wary of facing Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, who proved to be a giant-killer in 2015. Hopefully, they are not placed in same half of the draw.
We have three international events in the country this year and given the home support, there could be podium finishes at the Indian GP, India Open and the Badminton Asia championships at Hyderabad in February. A good showing here can propel our shuttlers into some sort of domination this year.
Indian men singles players like Srikanth, Kashyap, HS Prannoy, Jayaram, Sai Praneeth, Saameer and Saurabh Verma are also good enough to stamp their names on trophies. The key is consistency. As chief coach Gopi Chand says, "The year 2015 was good, but we need to be more consistent in our results. This is a packed year with hardly any gaps. Though the Olympics will be in minds of all players, we also have to prepare for the Thomas/Uber Cups, Asian Championships, the Superseries and Grand Prix circuits."
Training schedules can go haywire and players also have to keep themselves injury-free. In many ways, 2016 will be a make-or-break year for Indian badminton. A couple of medals at Rio can take Indian badminton to dizzying heights. However, things are not hunky-dory.
Coach P Gopi Chand must address the fact that while Saina and Sindhu are world-class, there is no bench strength in the ladies singles section. Currently, our third and fourth players in the world rankings are way behind — Tanvi Lad is ranked 87 and Saili Rane is at 93. So our options are limited in the Asian team championships and Uber Cup.