Five memorable badminton matches involving Indians in 2010s
If there’s one sport in India that took a giant stride forward in this past decade, it’s badminton. This was the decade that produced our first world champion in badminton, and our first Olympic medallist in the sport (and then some more!), and established India as one of the world’s powerhouses in the sport.
As the decade draws to a close, we map that explosive rise by looking back at five matches that defined Indian badminton.
2010 Commonwealth Games final: Saina Nehwal vs Mew Wong
By the time the Delhi Commonwealth Games came around, Saina Nehwal had already reached the top echelons in women’s badminton. The Hyderabadi was ranked No.3 in the world, having dropped a spot a month ago, and had already clinched multiple Superseries (the top grade of BWF tournaments then) titles. However, the Commonwealth Games women’s singles gold made Nehwal a household name in the country. The Indian men’s hockey team had suffered a humiliating 0-8 loss to table-toppers Australia and the host nation was trailing England in third place in the medals tally. It was all down to Nehwal to raise India to second in the table but things didn’t go as per plan, initially. Malaysia’s Mew Wong won the first game and was on the verge of clinching the gold at match point in the second. With a nerveless counterattack, Nehwal saved the match point, and then the game. Then she went on to thrash Wong in the third game, accompanied by a roaring crowd rooting for every shot that left her racket.
2011 World Championships: Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa vs Vita Marissa/Nadya Melati
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa had established themselves as stars in their own right at the 2010 CWG, winning the women’s doubles gold—which remains the only doubles gold India has ever won at CWG.
Yet, few expected the pair to medal at the 2011 World Championships; the focus was firmly on Nehwal instead, tipped to bring India its first Worlds medal since Prakash Padukone in 1983. It was not to be, as she fell in the quarters.
On the other hand, Jwala and Ashwini made headlines straight from the first round, where they took down the number two seeds from Chinese Taipei. Another win, and they were in the quarters, against Indonesian 12th seeds Vita Marissa and Nadya Melati. Down a game, India’s drought at the Worlds was looking to continue until the left and right-hand combination staged a brilliant comeback to win the next two games and earn India’s second ever World’s medal.
Jwala and Ashwini lost in the semis to the Chinese fifth seeds but that bronze remains India’s only doubles medal at the world championships. It was also the beginning of a winning streak—India has not returned without a medal from the Worlds since.
2014 Commonwealth Games final: Parupalli Kashyap vs Derek Wong
With 2006 and 2010 champion Lee Chong Wei pulling out of the Commonwealth Games, the road to CWG gold had become just a little easier for India’s top men’s player Parupalli Kashyap. It had been 32 years since an Indian male had won a CWG gold. After an easy route to the semis, the second seeded Indian ousted English third seed Rajiv Ouseph in a tough three-game battle to set up a summit clash against Singapore’s Derek Wong. Kashyap claimed the first game but the sixth seed levelled the contest, pushing the match into the decider. The Emirates Arena in Glasgow witnessed a thrilling contest, and provided the atmosphere to match it. Wong had an upper hand almost throughout the deciding game but Kashyap pulled things back to claim the coveted prize, joining Syed Modi (1982) and Prakash Padukone (1978) as only the third Indian male to win the CWG gold. To add to it, Kashyap played the entire tournament with a heavily strapped shoulder as it kept popping out of the socket!
2017 World Championships final: PV Sindhu vs Nozomi Okuhara
Who can forget that epic final? That brutal yet enthralling slugfest, lasting an hour and 50 minutes, where unfortunately there had to be a loser. Yes, Sindhu ended up on the losing side, and it was a loss that would have hit her even harder considering her defeat to Spaniard Carolina Marin a year earlier at the Olympics final. But just like her silver at the Olympics was historic and heroic, so was this match. The longest ever World Championship final could also be considered, arguably, as the greatest ever, with every game of this spectacular match going down to the wire. A 73-shot rally defined the never-give-up attitude, the sheer skills on display.
2019 World Championships final: PV Sindhu vs Nozomi Okuhara
The same stage, the same players, but a different result. Having lost three major finals—2016 Olympics and 2017, 2018 World Championships—Sindhu was desperate to end the losing streak. Dubbed the ‘silver girl’, the shuttler was unable to explain her series of losses in finals. But her dominant run to the final in Basel more than explained her desperate desire to win gold and silence her critics. That was evident from Sindhu’s semi-final victory where she destroyed Chinese fourth seed Chen Yufei 21-7, 21-14 in only 40 minutes. Unlike the gritty 2017 battle, the final this time was all Sindhu’s. The Indian barely took 37 minutes to hammer the Japanese 21-7, 21-7 to become the first Indian world champion.