Indian badminton makes unprecedented leap in 2014
It turned out to be a watershed year for Indian badminton as the home shuttlers clinched no less than eight individual titles and also broke new grounds in team championships, making India a dominant force at the international stage.
New Delhi: It turned out to be a watershed year for Indian badminton as the home shuttlers clinched no less than eight individual titles and also broke new grounds in team championships, making India a dominant force at the international stage.
Saina Nehwal and K Srikanth clinching titles at China Super Series Premier and P V Sindhu bagging five bronze, including a World Championship medal, besides the historic bronze medals at Uber Cup and Asian Games, were the highlights of the year in which Indian badminton achieved unprecedented success at the global platform.
If Saina led the resurgence of Indian badminton in the last few years, the year also saw the emergence of younger stars, who made it a terrific season with the help of their stupendous performance.
While Saina scooped three titles, Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, Aravind Bhat, Sindhu and H S Prannoy -- all laid their hands on the crown at least once in the year gone by. In fact, Saurabh Verma and P C Thulasi also won titles in the International challenge category.
It was yet again Saina 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.
While Saina blew hot and cold, teen sensation Sindhu continued to make big strides in world badminton with her performance, which saw her reach the finals of India Grand Prix Gold first in Lucknow and then winning the bronze at the Asian Badminton Championship in Gimcheon.
In fact, Indian women's doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Poppanna 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 for the first time 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.
After a week, young H S 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 next week.
In the same month, India created another historic moment in a multi-sport event when they ended a 28-year-old medal drought in Asian Games badminton after the women's shuttlers, led by Saina and Sindhu, won a bronze in Incheon.
Within a fortnight, Ajay Jayaram, who had returned to the circuit in August after a seven-month layoff due to shoulder injury, notched up a Grand Prix title, winning the Dutch Open in Almere.
Indian badminton took a giant leap in November when Saina and Srikanth created history by winning the women's and men's singles titles in the China Open Super Series Premier. While it was Saina's third title, for Srikanth it was the biggest title of his career.
The 21-year-old, who had hogged the limelight last year after winning the Thailand Grand Prix Gold, created a big splash when he beat home favourite and two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion Lin Dan at home en route to the title in the finals.
The lad from Andra Pradesh reached the semifinals of the Hong Kong Open next and also qualified for the BWF's World Super Series Finals, where only the top eight players compete.
Meanwhile, Sindhu defended her title at the Macau Open Grand Prix Gold in the last week of November, three days after she slipped out of the world top 10.
Playing in the prestigious season-ending Super Series Finals, Saina and Srikanth made it to the semifinals to end the year on a high.
While Saina has been inside the top 10 for few years now, it was the meteoric rise for Srikanth, which made the world turn and take notice. He reached a career-best ranking of world number 6 during the BWF's World Super Series Finals and is likely to enter the top 5 bracket when the rankings are out this week, following a semifinal finish at Dubai.
National chief coach Pullela Gopichand said: "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."
As the top shuttlers made their mark, others too made news through their performance with Sourabh Verma, P C Thulasi winning international challenge titles.
While Sourabh clinched the Iran Fajr Open in Tehran and Austrian Open in Vienna, and finished runners-up at Malaysia Grand Prix Gold, Thulashi emerged victories at the Sri Lanka Open and Bahrain Open. Another shuttler Anand Pawar also reached finals in Bahrain.
Prannoy and Gadde Ruthvika Shivani also made a splash when they triumphed at the Tata Open International challenge in mid-December.
The year also had its share of drama when Saina decided to regain her lost touch by splitting with long-time mentor Gopichand and train under former chief coach Vimal Kumar.