Riding on three back-to-back victories, Saina Nehwal reached the World No 2 spot on July 15, 2010. This week too she has done the nation proud by charging back to the very same spot as per the BWF rankings released yesterday.
Again, the World No 2 spot has come after a typical Saina blitzkrieg which saw her snatching four major titles at the Thai, Swiss, Indonesian and Danish Opens apart from the runners-up spot at the French Super Series. Adding to that were the points she accumulated by leading the Indian Uber Cup team to dominance in the preliminaries event last April.
Saina Nehwal. Pic/AFP
Unlike 2010, India’s badminton story in 2012 and the start of 2013 is highly praiseworthy. Saina and Co, which includes 18-year-old PV Sindhu, who defeated current World No 1 and reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui at the China Open in October, played extremely well right through last year. Sindhu, in fact, did her career no harm when she bulldozed her way to the finals of the Syed Modi Memorial Indian GP in Lucknow in December. Most importantly, she also won the Asian Junior title, which according to most pundits, is next to the world championships or an Olympic event in terms of depth in standards.
Not since 1980 when Prakash Padukone snatched the coveted All England, the inaugural World Cup and the major Danish/Swedish Open events, has Indian badminton had it so good.
The story of Indian badminton is not just about Saina or Sindhu today, the most relishing fact is that we have P Kashyap at the World No 10 spot — the highest-ever reached by any Indian after Padukone and P Gopichand, followed by four other Indians in top 50 of the world rankings in men’s singles. In which other sport does India enjoy such a luxury?
Gopi, the catalyst
As Gopichand told me in Lucknow last December after Kashyap won the Indian GP Gold, “No doubt this (2012) has been a great year for Indian badminton.
Both in men’s and ladies singles, we have had the best possible results. But this is not enough. If we are to conquer the Chinese and Koreans, the two best nations, we must have more depth in our bench strength. We must have four to five really strong combinations in each paired events. More importantly, we must have a better coaching system that can reach the remotest corners of the country.”
Indeed, the magic weaved by Gopichand as National coach for the last six years is producing superlative results.
Indian players are feared on the circuit today. As Sindhu said after being asked whether she was afraid to face Li Xeruei, “What is there to be afraid of? Gopi Sir says just go and give them hell; believe in yourself and train hard. This is what we are doing. I am not afraid to face anyone on court.” Sindhu was only 17 at that time. Undoubtedly, Gopi has been the catalyst in such changes.
Coming back to Saina, she is at the No 2 spot with 80091 points, almost 14535 points adrift from Li Xeruei who enjoys the No 1 status after equal number of tournament participation. This is a big difference in points. We would love to have Saina crack the No 1 spot. It is however a tall order and for that, she must win at least three to four titles in the early part of the year.
She has the talent, grit and sheer determination to reach the rank she desperately wants. She has won such events in the past few years and most courageously has been in the top six for the last five years. This is huge accomplishment by any measure. She relishes a fight. Of this, there is no doubt.
With a bit of luck, we may well see her as World No 1 by end of April this year.
The author is a former India badminton player.