Mumbai: While praising the depth in the Indian men's ranks and expecting it to last for the next ten years, badminton legend Prakash Padukone lamented that the distaff side did not possess the same depth in class after world no. 2 Saina Nehwal and no. 12 P V Sindhu.
"I am confident about the depth in men's singles for the next ten years with so many talented youngsters ready to take over from the likes of P Kashyap once they retire. But the same cannot be said about the women's singles," said Prakash at the launch of the 8th edition of the USD 15,000 Tata Open India International Challenge here today.
"Apart from Saina and Sindhu, there is none of international class at present. The same is true of the pairs events. A lot of work needs to be done in ladies singles, men's doubles, women's doubles and mixed doubles," said the former All England champion, whose Bengaluru-based academy is conducting the Tata Open at the Cricket Club of India.
"There is a lot of talent (among boys) in the smaller centres, which is a very good sign for the growth of the game. According to me, badminton has to be ranked in the top 3 sports in India based on popularity, standard and new courts. We are on the right track," said Prakash.
"The Tata Open is growing bigger by the day. Next year I am told even Gopi (National coach Pullela Gopichand) is going to conduct a tournament (at this level) and then players will have the chance not to have to travel too much as our tournament will be followed by Gopi's at Hyderabad and the one in Bangladesh," he said.
Prakash said his academy (PPBA), which has completed twenty years of existence, has shifted its focus to the younger groups so that there's no duplication with the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad which caters to the seniors.
"I am glad that in the junior nationals the under 17 (Lakshya Sen, Arintap Dasgupta) and 19 (Chirag Sen, Ansal Yadav) winners and runners-up are from our academy though they are from different states. Maisnam Meiraba, the Manipur boy who won the U15 title, is also from our academy," he said.
He, however, put the onus on verification of the correct age of players on the state associations and the Badminton Association of India, saying his academy is "only for training talented players."
The Tata Open, whose finals are scheduled on December 13, has attracted around 200 shuttlers from nine countries, including hosts India.
The countries that would be represented along with the hosts are Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Uzbekistan.
A total of 144 Indians would take part and the hosts' challenge in men's and women's events would be led by world no. 53 Sameer Verma and no. 52 Salil Rane respectively.
World no. 71 Anand Pawar is also to take part in men's singles along with Malaysian world no. 85 Joo Ven Soong and Thai world no. 95 Khosit Phetpradab.
World no. 80 P C Thulasi, who won an earlier edition, is another leading Indian woman player who would be in action along with Malaysian world no. 30 Jing Yi Tee, the top seed, and world no. 39 Pornpawee Chochuwong of Thailand.
In men's doubles, Thien How Hoon and Khim Wah Lim of Malaysia are the top seeds followed by the second seeded Indian pair of Jerry Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar.
In women's doubles, a Thai and Malaysian pairs are the top two seeds.
Malaysia will have 28 players in the draw, Singapore 12, Thailand 9 and Indonesia 8, while two players each from Uzbekistan, Lanka and Nepal are in the fray along with a line entrant from Vietnam.
South Korea's Won Kyu Cho is the tournament referee. The main draw commences on December 10 after tomorrow's qualifying rounds.