Srikanth, Sen world medals a big boost for Indian men’s badminton
- Former stalwarts Vimal Kumar and Aparna Popat say backing and guidance for talented young players will help build on the fine showing in Huelva.
As usual, the spotlight ahead of the world badminton championships in Huelva, Spain was on women’s singles. Will PV Sindhu retain her title was the big question. Though Sindhu lost in the quarters, men’s singles shone brightly for India.
Medal expectations from the prestigious event has invariably been on Saina Nehwal and then Sindhu, who had ensured India’s podium finish in every edition since 2013, when she won bronze as an 18-year-old. That was the first singles medal by an Indian since Prakash Padukone’s bronze in 1983. It took 36 years before an Indian male shuttler won a medal, with B Sai Praneeth’s bronze in 2019.
This time, India have won two medals in men’s singles in a single edition. Former world No 1 Kidambi Srikanth’s silver, in his sixth attempt at winning a medal, is the best show by an Indian male player. Lakshya Sen, 20, took bronze in his first big-ticket event after the semi-final loss to Srikanth.
HS Prannoy, a last-minute entrant, rallied to stun world No. 9 Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong in the first round and beat 10th-ranked Rasmus Gemke of Denmark before losing to Singapore’s eventual champion Loh Kean Yew in the quarters.
Three Indians entering the quarters reflected the depth of the men’s game in the country, says former chief national coach, U Vimal Kumar. “I’ve all along been saying that we have good depth in men’s singles. “There is someone like Lakshya emerging from the younger lot, while Srikanth is showing his old touch. Prannoy coming back into the mix is also a good sign.”
Three Indians are ranked among the world’s top 20—Srikanth (14), Sai Praneeth (16) and Sen (19). Sameer Verma is 24, while Prannoy, Parupalli Kashyap and Sourabh Verma are in the 30s
Aparna Popat, the nine-time former national champion and 1996 junior world championship runner-up, says Srikanth and Prannoy—both had to overcome issues from injuries to patchy form—must build on this showing, in a slightly depleted field that saw three of the top five seeds retire or lose in the first round.
“Having said that, a world championships medal is a world championships medal, and it’s a happy step. At the same time, they will have to build on this and put together a consistent string of results for the big next year,” the four-time Commonwealth Games medallist says.
Popat is upbeat about former junior world No 1 Sen’s progress. “Transitioning from the youth to senior stage can become tricky sometimes. Not everyone can make it, and certainly not so fast. He has sort of got into the men’s section now and will be watched much more by opponents. I feel he has the right team and mentors to keep him working and be hungry for more.”
Kumar is part of that mentorship group at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru, where Sen trains. He urged support for youngsters from an early stage. Sen has been backed by the Olympic Gold Quest since 2011.
“The problem is the support to the younger lot has been missing. It is not that we lack in funds assistance, but it needs to be diverted to the right places,” Kumar said. “Players like Kiran George, Priyanshu Rajawat, Meiraba (Luwang Maisnamare) are all in the 18-21 category and very close to making it to the next level. We need to go all out in supporting these kinds of players.”