Smashing Saina gives a fillip to Indian badminton in 2008 | india | Hindustan Times
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Smashing Saina gives a fillip to Indian badminton in 2008

india Updated: Dec 26, 2008 12:48 IST

From being just another promising young shuttler to breaking into the world's top 10, the year gone by has seen the metamorphosis of Saina Nehwal into a sensation, whose exploits helped India rise up the world badminton chart.

Riding on her success story, Indian badminton enjoyed a steep-rise over the past few seasons to leave its mark on the world sporting canvass.

Keeping pace with her dreams, Saina had made her intent clear at the start of the year when she became the first Indian girl to enter a Super Series semi-final in Singapore Open before losing to Mi Zhou of Hong Kong. She also made it to the last eight of the Thailand open.

With a new found optimism, the 18-year-old then sizzled at the Beijing Games, stunning world number five and fourth seed Wang Chen of Hong Kong in a three-game thriller to become the first Indian woman to reach the quarter finals of the Olympics.

The little Hyderabadi teen soon attained the tag of a 'giant killer' as she galloped her way to an impressive win in the Yonex Chinese Taipei Open, beating Li Ya Lydia Cheah of Malaysia 21-8 21-19 in September.

The National champion also clinched the Youth Commonwealth Games and World Junior Championship titles and was adjudged the most promising player of the year by the Badminton World Federation soon after she broke into the elite top 10 bracket.

With the year nearing end, another opportunity came her way when she qualified for the prestigious World Super Series Masters final in Malaysia after two of the Chinese pulled out of the event at the last moment. However, her participation in the event came in jeopardy when her passport got entangled in a bureaucratic quagmire. But a timely intervention by the Ministry of External Affairs settled everything on time as Saina emerged as the only Indian to reach the semifinal of the prestigious event, defeating two top level player on a single day.

The Hyderabadi teen defeated World number seven Hongyan Pi of France and world number 11 Mew Choo Wong of Malaysia in the round-robin league before going down to world number six Chen Wang in the final four.

Among male, 2008 saw the resurgence of Chetan Anand into the forefront once again. The 28-old-year shuttler rose like a phoenix, first winning the national championship for the third time on the trot and then romping home with the Kenya International Open, Spanish Open in Madrid and Nepal Open in June.

He then reached the peak of his form, claiming the Bitburger and Czech International titles as his ranking shoot to World number 15. The Arjuna awardee also made it to the finals of Indian Open, Belgium Open and Dubai Open.

While Chetan weaved a web across his opponents in the singles, his wife and national champion Jwala Gutta kept the flag fluttering in the doubles events.

Combining with Shruti Kurian, the Hyderabadi lass romped home with two titles, Nepal International Series and KLRC Bulgaria Open Grand Prix, while reaching the semi-finals of the Yonex Dutch Open Grand Prix in October.

It was a year of resurgence for the seven-time national doubles champion, who had to go through a bureaucratic hegemony last year along with her husband Chetan as critics started writing their obituary. However, a gritty Jwala shrugged off all criticism and galloped her way to three more titles with partner D Viju in the mixed doubles. The world number 38 duo won the Nepal International Series, Bitburger Open Grand Prix and KLRC Bulgaria Open Grand Prix to complete a hat-trick of titles.

While, the whole country was celebrating the winning feats of these shuttlers, one man who sat all alone in one corner was ace shuttler Anup Sridhar.

Riding on his last year's performance, the 25-year-old Bangalorean got a ticket to the Beijing Olympics and soon became

the best Indian male shuttler ranking world number 14 but a foot injury in the first quarter of the year dented his hopes as it kept him out of the court for most of the season.

Sridhar started the year winning the All-India ranking tournament in New Delhi and reached the pre-quarterfinals of the Proton Malaysia Super Series where he lost to Hyun Il Lee, the eventual runner-up.

Even in the tournaments he played -- Indonesian Open, Singapore Open and Thailand Open -- he failed to make any mark and made early exits.

However, a gutsy Sridhar didn't let go the opportunity of representing the country in the world biggest sporting extravaganza and took to the courts in Beijing with cortisone shots and defeated Marco Vasconcelos of Portugal in the first round before going down to Shoji Sato of Japan.

Though Sridhar attained his dream of representing India in the Olympics, the cortisone shots further prolonged his injury lay-off which saw him sit out after the quadrennial extravaganza.

In fine, the year gone by has filled a new aura of self-belief in Indian shuttlers which is here to stay. As former All England Champion and National coach Pullela Gopichand would put it,"Indian badminton has come at the World stage."