Taking flight in style

Looking back: Srikanth's rise studded a great year for Indian badminton

Taking flight in style

It turned out to be a watershed year for Indian badminton as the shuttlers clinched no less than eight individual titles and also broke new ground in team championships, making India a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

Saina Nehwal and K Srikanth clinching titles at China Open Super Series Premier and P V Sindhu bagging five bronze medals, including one at the World Championship, besides the historic bronze medals at Uber Cup and Asian Games, were the highlights of the year.

Saina was at the forefront of Indian badminton’s resurgence in the last few years. This year, though, she had strong support, with the rise of Srikanth, who climbed to world number 4 at the end of the season, being the most significant one. Srikanth, who had been hit by meningitis in July, had started the year at No 48. His win over five-time world champion Lin Dan at the China Open was the highlight of the year for the 21-year-old.

Both Saina and Srikanth qualified for the year-end Super Series finals in Dubai but exited at the semifinal stage. While Saina scooped up three titles, Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, Aravind Bhat, Sindhu and H S Prannoy laid their hands on the crown at least once. Saurabh Verma and P C Thulasi also won titles in the International challenge category.

It was Saina again who set things in motion with a victory at the India Grand Prix Gold, which finally broke her long title drought. The Indian ace added two more titles to her kitty, clinching the Australia Super Series at Sydney in June and China Super Series Premier at Fuzhou in November. In between, she changed coaches too, shifting from Pullela Gopichand to U Vimal Kumar in Bangalore.

Though the Chinese dominated most events, the women’s world title was won by Carolina Marin of Spain. While Saina, who ended the year at No 4, battled hard against the Chinese, Sindhu continued to make big strides.

She reached the final of the India Grand Prix Gold in Lucknow and then won the bronze at the Asian Badminton Championship in Gimcheon. The women’s doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa also made their presence felt by clinching the bronze in the same tournament in April.

Next month, India hosted the prestigious Thomas and Uber Cup Finals and Saina and Sindhu ensured that it turned out to be a memorable one as they shepherded the women’s team to a historic bronze. Sindhu had a golden chance of winning the Commonwealth Games women’s singles title in July but the Indian had to settle for a bronze when she lost to Michelle Li of Canada.

The 19-year-old later became the first to win two bronze medals at the World Championship after she reached the semifinals in Copenhagen. Though she slipped to No 11 in the world, the Hyderabadi had the satisfaction of winning at least one title, retaining the Macau Open.

The Commonwealth Games  turned out to be a happy hunting ground for India as Kashyap ended the country’s 32-year wait for the singles gold. RMV Gurusaidutt finished with a bronze in the men’s singles, while 2010 champions, Jwala and Ashwini settled for the silver.

Prannoy made it to the finals of the Vietnam GP Open, before clinching the maiden title of his career at the Indonesian Masters Grand Prix Gold in Palembang while Ajay Jayaram, who had returned to the circuit in August after a seven-month layoff due to shoulder injury, won the Dutch Open in Almere.

India hit another high, ending a 28-year-old medal drought in the Asian Games after the women shuttlers, led by Saina and Sindhu, won a bronze in Incheon, leaving National coach Pullela Gopichand a satisfied man.

“This is an unprecedented year for Indian badminton. As a badminton nation, we have grown. Hopefully, in the years to come, we will have many more victories. Till now, this is the best of what we have. The future is going to be even better,” said Gopichand.

On the world stage, China’s Chen Long and Li Xuerui ended the year as No 1 players in the men’s and women’s sections. Long also claimed the world title while Malaysian ace Lee Chong Wei was embroiled in a doping controversy, and getting suspended.

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