Badminton rewind 2017: PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth scale new heights
Indian shuttlers were in smashing form in 2017, with Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu being the standout performers in the international badminton circuit
Like every year in the last decade or so, Indian badminton rose another notch in 2017. Indian shuttlers — men and women alike — performed brilliantly on the international circuit to bring home laurels and achieve levels which hadn’t been reached previously.
Unquestionably, the two biggest newsmakers were Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu, both of whom qualified for the prestigious year-ending Superseries Finals in Dubai, with Sindhu losing in the final and Srikanth making an early exit.
But the highlight of the year was the women’s singles final between Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara and Sindhu at the Glasgow World Championships in August. That epic summit clash that lasted an hour and 50 minutes could have gone either way. Nozomi proved a tad better on the day to claim the all-important title. Sindhu, nevertheless, became only the second Indian after Saina Nehwal to reach the final of the World Championships and claim silver.
The Hyderabadi also achieved a career-high ranking of world No 2 apart from winning two Superseries titles – at home and in South Korea. The 22-year-old had also won the Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold at the start of the year.
Discussion on Indian badminton won’t be complete without mention of Saina Nehwal, who not so long ago was the undisputed queen of badminton in India. However, since the 2016 Rio Olympics, the limelight has shifted to Sindhu.
Saina went out of action in August 2016 after undergoing knee surgery. On comeback, she won the Malaysia Masters in January but was far from her best. The former world No 1 suffered a few early-round exits but slowly started regaining form and confidence towards the middle of the year. At the World Championships, the 27-year-old surprised all to claim bronze, exactly a year after she went under the knife.
Saina, who returned to train under chief national coach, Pullela Gopichand, had average performances but struck top form to defeat Sindhu in the national championships final. It was a pulsating clash, but interestingly Saina won in straight games against a player who had reached the two biggest finals in the world in 2017.
In men’s singles, ever since Srikanth won the 2014 China Open beating home favourite and probably the greatest player the game has seen, Lin Dan in the final, he has shown glimpses of his huge talent and potential. Malaysian legend Rashid Sidek told this correspondent four years back that he sees Srikanth as the next Indian badminton star and his word has come true. In Srikanth, India have found a men’s star, the first since his guru, Gopichand. The 24-year-old came into his own in 2017 by winning four Superseries titles — a feat no other Indian has achieved. It could have been five had he not lost to B Sai Praneeth in the Singapore Open final.
A year or two back, Srikanth was this talented yet nervy shuttler who fell short on big occasions. But, 2017 has been an altogether different for Srikanth, who beat one and all convincingly to reach a career high world ranking of No 2.
Huge step forward
Sai Praneeth also took a huge step forward, winning a Superseries in Singapore and the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold. But since then, he has not been able to make a mark. He had also reached the final of Syed Modi International GPG, where he went down to compatriot Sameer Verma.
The other notable player to make a mark in 2017 was HS Prannoy, who apart from beating several elite players, entered the top-10 of the rankings for the first time and also won the US Open, his third GPG crown.
In doubles, the only time the Indians reached the final was at the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold where Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy won the mixed doubles title.
Next year, the likes of Srikanth and Sindhu will be expected to keep the momentum going while Saina Nehwal will have to raise the bar and again get into the habit of winning Superseries crowns with the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games also prominent fixtures in the calendar.