Last Sunday was indeed a red-letter day for Indian badminton when Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth repeated their historic 2014 China Open victories at the India Open Super Series in New Delhi.
Saina Nehwal returns against Maria Febe Kusumastuti at Malaysia Open in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Pic/AFP
Pullela Gopichand's stock is running high. The champion coach may have lost Saina after she was already World No 2 to the Padukone Badminton Academy and Vimal Kumar, but in Srikanth he has another World No 1 in the making.
In fact, if the 22-year-old Hyderabad player wins either at Malaysia this week or the Indonesia Super Series the following week, he will in all probability be World No 1. Gopi also has players like HS Prannoy, Gurusaidutt, B Sai Praneeth, Saurabh Verma, Sameer Verma and even veteran Parupalli Kashyap.
All the above have defeated a big name in the sport so Gopi has proved yet again that he is the best thing that has happened to Indian badminton.
Secondly, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and its president Akhilesh Das Gupta have played it right by not interfering with the coaching system adopted by Gopi.
It helps that the BAI president himself was a good player at the national junior level and therefore instinctively understands what our shuttlers require.
Kidambi Srikanth with his India Open winner's medal on Sunday
Thirdly, we now have a bench strength as far as men's singles is concerned and in Saina and PV Sindhu, India has two singles specialists, who can take on the might of the Chinese or the rest of the world any time.
These victories have proved that Indian badminton does not need foreign coaches. History proves that Prakash Nath, Nandu Natekar, Padukone, Dinesh Khanna, Gopi, Saina and the current crop — all world-beaters — were coached and brought up in the humidity and dust of India.
Indeed, most of these great players started of in low-ceiling, cement-floor courts and yet went on to be legendary champions.
All you need is a system in which there is no interference or partiality and a committed coach. Gopi already has a factory of champions, but Prakash Padukone and Vimal in the past started this process and we saw the emergence of likes of Gopi, Aparna Popat and others who paved the way for Saina and her ilk.
As far as the future of Indian badminton is concerned, the sky is the limit. We only read about the senior players, but in all junior age groups, our players have been shining globally.
Soon we will have players like Riya Mukherjee, Rutvika Shivani, Ritpurna Das, Harsheel Dani, Shlok Ramchandran, his partner Sayyaam Shukla and many others graduating to senior ranks and making India proud.
However, there is a dampener. There are hardly any doubles combinations or players of top calibre emerging. With the Sudirman Cup to be held in May, this grey area will be very visible. In all team events, India falters simply because this aspect is neglected.
There are many foreign coaches employed by the BAI and academies for many years, but the results are poor. We must give the reigns to our former doubles specialists and results will be forthcoming.
So while we salute our Sainas and Srikanths, it will be a folly to think that India has become a badminton superpower. That will happen only when we start producing world-class players across all categories.
The writer is a former India player