Year in review: Saina Nehwal shines in a subdued season for Indian badminton
New Delhi: Saina Nehwal continued to break new grounds in a year that saw her reach the pinnacle of world badminton but it turned out to be a subdued season, marred by injuries and poor form, for the rest of the Indian shuttlers.
Saina Nehwal. Pic/AFP
Saina and K Srikanth continued their good run, winning two titles each, while PV Sindhu, Parupalli Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram battled through injuries to claim a title but overall the Indian shuttlers could not reach the heights that they achieved in a watershed 2014.
Continuing her rich vein of form, Saina clinched the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold and then broke the jinx of never winning the Indian Open Super Series with a splendid performance which catapulted her to the World No. 1 position.
The Olympic bronze medalist also produced stellar performances at three of the most prestigious events in world badminton calender, reaching the finals of the All England and World Championship and the China Super Series Premier.
However, the girl from Hyderabad suffered an ankle injury at Fuzhou in November which forced her to skip the Hong Kong Open and also posed a serious question mark on her performance at the season-ending BWF Super Series Finals but Saina stunned the world with a superlative win over World No. 1 Carolina Marin in the second match before fitness issues saw her fail to qualify for the semifinals.
Sindhu, who had mesmerised the world by bagging five bronze medals including a World Championship medal last year, suffered a stress fracture on her left foot and it affected her game through out the season as she made too many early exits from tournaments.
Despite recovering from injury, Sindhu struggled with her form before making her maiden Super Series Final at the Denmark Open in October. The 20-year-old, however, ensured she has at least one crown in her kitty as she completed a hat-trick of titles, winning the women's singles at Macau Open Grand Prix Gold.
In men's singles, Kidambi Srikanth had emerged as the next big thing last year when he had beaten two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan en route to his China Open triumph and the 22-year-old from Guntur continued his rampaging run in the first half of the season, winning the Swiss Open and India Open in March and reached the World No. 3 ranking in June.
However, his form dipped after that as he made early exits from tournaments which took a toll on his ranking. The only time he came close to winning a title was when he reached the finals of the Indonesia Masters early this month. Though his ranking dipped, it was good enough to earn him a second successive place at the BWF Super Series Finals but the Indian could not win a single match and ended the season on a low note.
Commonwealth Games champion Kashyap started the season with a title win at Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold and clinched a win over World No. 1 Chen Long en route to his semifinal finish in June at Indonesia Open. He also reached the semifinals of Singapore Open.
However, Kashyap suffered a calf muscle injury during the French Super Series and was left on the sidelines for the rest of the season. 28-year-old Jayaram, who lost a lot of time because of a shoulder injury, had reached the semifinals at Malaysia Masters, Swiss Open and Russia Open earlier in the year but it was his maiden Super Series Final at Korea Open which made headlines and he capped it by defending his title at Dutch Open Grand Prix in October.
Fast-rising shuttler H S Prannoy reached his career-best ranking of World No. 12 but he could not win any title this season. However, his twin victory against Denmark's Jan O Jorgensen in India Open and Singapore Open respectively and five-time world champion Lin Dan in October found its place in Indian badminton folklore.
It was also a good year for rising men's doubles pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy as they played a lot of Grand Prix, Grand Prix Gold and International Challenge tournaments to reach the World No. 19 spot. The duo won the Belgian International Challenge and Lagos International challenge, besides reaching the finals of Dutch
Open Grand Prix, Prague Open International Challenge, Guatemala International challenge and US Open Grand Prix Gold.
2010 Commonwealth Games champions Jwala and Ashwini also lay claim to a title this year, winning the Canada Open Grand Prix in June and reaching the finals of US Open Grand Prix Gold. The year also had its share of controversies when Saina, who was bestowed the Khel Ratna and Padma Shri in 2010 and Arjuna Award in 2009, was left disappointed after her name was not sent to the ministry of home affairs by the sports ministry for the Padma Bhushan award.
Saina took to social networking site twitter to express her discontent and later her name was recommended by the Ministry even though eventually she didn't get the award. Jwala and Ashwini also stirred a hornet's nest when the doubles duo complained of bias against the Sports Ministry and chief national coach Pullela Gopichand after they didn't find their names among the shuttlers who were the first to be included in the TOP scheme in April.
After much dilly-dallying, the Sports Ministry finally included Jwala and Ashwini in the TOP scheme, putting an end to the controversy in September. The Badminton Association of India (BAI) also found itself in the middle of a controversy when the federation decided to terminate their contract with commercial partners Sporty Solutionz (SSPL), who were responsible for the successful conduct of the Indian badminton league in 2013.
BAI had organised the lucrative IBL with SSPL in 2013 but thereafter for two years -- 2014 and 2015 -- the League did not take place. Sporty Solution then moved a petition against the BAI in the Delhi High Court to protect their intellectual property rights, which was declined by the court, clearing the deck for BAI to organise the League on their own.
To avoid any legal hassle, the BAI then rechristened the name of IBL into Premier Badminton League and the league is set to be held from January 2 to 17.