Smashing success stories

Smashing success stories

Smashing success stories

Saina Nehwal enjoyed the most successful season of her career in 2010 until an injury curtailed her world number one dreams even as Chinese shuttlers showed their mastery to extend their reign at the top of world badminton for one more year.

With five major titles in her kitty, Saina, who climbed to world number two spot before slipping to number four, was tantalisingly close reaching the top ranking. But an injury to her right ankle forced The Hyderabadi to pull out of season-ending Indian Open Grand Prix in December, effectively ending her chances.

"It has been really good year for me. I played five Super Series events out of a total 12 and I won three of them. It’s a great feeling, especially because I won the Commonwealth Games gold this year,” Saina said. “Perhaps, I could have become world number one had I played in Hyderabad. But you can’t take chances with injuries,” explained Saina.

Saina NehwalSaina began the year by winning the Indian Open Grand Prix Gold before capturing the Super Series crowns in Singapore and Indonesia. The 20-year-old in the process became the first Indian woman shuttler to pocket three titles in a row. The hat-trick of titles helped her to climb six positions in the rankings from world number eight.
Saina faced a setback at the World Championships in Paris where she bowed out in the quarterfinals. She, however, came back strongly to pocket the Commonwealth Games gold after a nerve-jangling battle. Saina prevailed over Malaysian Wong Mew Choo 19-21, 23-21, 21-13 in a cliffhanger final.

Those images were among the best moments for the country in the sporting arena this year and could stay in the minds of fans for a long time to come. The Padma Shri and Khel Ratna awards came as a mark of recognition for Saina but she stumbled badly at the Asian Games, showing she still had a lot of work to do. 

The 20-year-old then showed her true calibre, pulling out a stunning 15-21, 21-16, 21-17 win over the Asian Games gold medallist Wang Shixian of China in the Hong Kong Open Super Series. “Commonwealth Games and Asian Games were important this year and I won the gold in Delhi in front of home crowd, which was also a memorable moment. If you ask me which title gave me more satisfaction, then I would go for Hong Hong Super Series win. Because, I played my best matches there, especially against Shixian,” Saina said.

Ashwini PonnappaSaina’s compatriots, the doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, too enjoyed some golden moments this year. The duo created a history by winning the gold at the CWG but Jwala didn’t enjoy much success in mixed doubles. Barring the Indian Open title, Jwala and her partner V Diju put up a below par performance in other tournaments. Understandably, the combination slipped to 30 in world rankings.

P Kashyap was the best among the men shuttlers this year. Kashyap claimed the bronze in Delhi and won the same medal at the Indian Open. The Hyderabadi thus became the highest ranked Indian at 23. Chetan Anand’s dip in form and injuries saw him plummet to 28 in world rankings. The 27-year-old’s only consolation was thee team silver at the CWG. Anup Sridhar and Aravind Bhat also had a poor season.

On the international scene, the Chinese dominated. Lin Dan pocketed the Asian Games gold, Asian Championships title and also helped his country claim the Thomas Cup while the Asian giants made a clean sweep at the World championships, winning five out of five in Paris. Of course, South Korea winning the Uber Cup was a big shock.

Saina will have a great chance to become the first Indian woman to hold the top ranking in 2011. But for that she had to find ways to shatter the Chinese Wall in big meets!

Josey Samuel

Punches of delight in the ring

Nearly two months ago, an incredible day at the Foshan Gymnasium in Guangzhou offered a pointer to the progress Indian boxing had made in the year 2010. Vijender Singh grabbed the 75 kg category gold, defeating old nemesis and reigning world champion Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan.

Vijender SinghIt was Vijender’s presence of mind to brave a dislocated thumb and battle a strong opponent in a crucial match that fascinated boxing lovers. The Bhiwani boxer’s win also emphatically stated that the Indian pugilists are no longer in awe of big names, world arena and daunting situations.

The victory also added to the colourful character of Vijender, who simply loves the spotlight. But other boxers too found their moments under the sun. A year of glory started in February when Indian boxers brought home three gold from the SAF Games. Chhote Lal Yadav (57kg), Suranjoy Singh (51kg) and Amandeep Singh (48kg) were the heroes for India in Dhaka.

That was just a precursor to bigger things to come. A set of young boxers proved their mettle with an astounding show in the Commonwealth Boxing Championship. The sextet of  Vijender, Amandeep, Asian champion Suranjoy, Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Dinesh Kumar (81kg) and Paramjeet Samota (+91kg) punched their way to glory.

However, the litmus test of their skills and temperament was the Delhi Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in Guangzhou. They had to negotiate tougher opponents, particularly from Ireland, African nations and the former Soviet republics. So, it hardly came as a surprise when the Indians travelled to Cuba, the spiritual home of boxing, to polish their skills. The trip wasn’t a futile one as the Indian boxing contingent had a highly satisfying outing in both the events. They bagged a combined five gold, three silver and eight bronze medals to round off a brilliant year.

Here too, Vijender was the flag-bearer. The poster boy of Indian boxing had momentarily forgotten the rules of boxing when he held on to his opponent in the CWG semifinals, getting penalised twice by the referee and settling for a disappointing bronze. Vijender, however, showed remarkable ability to fight against the odds at the Asian Games to emerge with a gold medal.

M C Mary Kom and Vikas KrishanAce woman boxer MC Mary Kom had a mixed 2010. The Manipuri pugilist grabbed an unprecedented fifth world title in the 48kg class but had to settle for bronze at the Asian Games in the 51kg category.

Any retrospection will not be complete without the mention of promising youngsters. India discovered two highly talented young boxers in Vikas Krishan and Shiva Thapa. They made India proud at the Youth World Championships in May. Vikas clinched gold while Shiva settled for silver after fighting his final bout with a stress fracture in his hand. Two months later, Vikas and Shiva clinched bronze and silver respectively at the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore.

Vikas, an ardent fan of Vijender, fetched a surprise gold for India at the Asian Games in the 60kg category, and we can expect bigger deeds from him in the future.

A heartening aspect was the consistency the boxers showed throughout the year. In the past, isolated sparks like Dingko Singh’s gold in the 1998 Asian Games sustained boxing’s faint heartbeats. But 2010 saw the sport getting rid of the life support system and becoming as healthy a sport as any other and a genuine medal prospect for the country.

The year also showcased the sport and the sportspersons getting more organised. You need the whole package – boxing, interval training, weights, nutrition and rest -- to succeed at the top level and the Indians showed that they are close to becoming a complete package. Never before did the Indian boxing fans have a chance to look at an approaching year with so much hope and excitement.

G Unnikrishnan

To say the least, it has been a fairly satisfactory year for Indian cueists, notably Pankaj Advani, the country’s No 1 exponent.

Pankaj AdvaniAlthough only 25, Advani has won virtually every trophy, national and international. He ended 2010 by claiming the gold medal at the Asian Games, but in the course of the year, lost both his World billiards titles (points and time format).

Over the years, Advani has risen to become the flag-bearer for Indian billiards and snooker and has achieved an iconic status. As such, the expectations have always been high, at times unrealistically so, as was the case in 2010.

“Yes, I lost both the World billiards titles, but I would say it was a reality check for me. It is humanly impossible to win every match and every title in any sport and it was no different with me. Overall, I am quite satisfied with the way the year went by.

“I won a medal in almost every tournament I played in, took the National snooker crown, won the Asian billiards title for the third consecutive year, the Asian Games gold medal and also was a runner-up in the IBSF World snooker in Syria, my last tournament of the year.

“The trip to Syria was soon after the Asian Games. I was fatigued, but couldn’t pull out as it would have been bad for my image and India. I had no expectations going into that tournament, but I posted five centuries and lost a close final. It was a pretty good performance overall,” said Advani. Poor scheduling cost Advani the World billiards title in the points format as he had just an hour’s break after a five-hour marathon with Peter Gilchrist before the final against the legendary Mike Russell who went on to win 6-0.

“It was not that I would have beaten Russell if I had more rest before the final, but I was too fatigued and couldn’t play as well as I would have wanted to. In that sense, I was quite disappointed. “Then I lost in the quarterfinals (to Dhruv Sitwala) of the time format World championship for which I have no excuses. I was on a 300-plus break and required another 125 or so points to win, but didn’t,” he recalled.
As consistently as Advani played, it was Sitwala’s brilliant run in the same World Championship at Leeds that underlined the depth of billiards talent in India. Sitwala beat former champion Geet Sethi in the semifinals by one point before losing to Russell by over 500 points in the final.

At the Asian Games, besides Advani’s billiards singles gold medal, India came away with the silver in team snooker (Yasin Merchant, Aditya Mehta and Brijesh Damani) and a bronze each in individual snooker (Aditya Mehta) and 8-ball pool (Alok Kumar) to cap a fine outing.

On the distaff side, the only notable achievement was that of 33-year old Vidya Pillai from Chennai who won the Australian Open crown and went on to reach the semifinals of the World Championship in Damascus, Syria, losing to the eventual title winner, Ng On Yee of Hong Kong.

In review, 2010 was much like the previous year when the attention was on Advani who continues to carry India’s hopes. Looking ahead to 2011, he said: “It is a comparatively lighter year and has a better schedule. Hopefully, I will do well.”