Badminton is the second most played sport in India after cricket and is currently churning out some propitious players at the international level. For the first time in history, six Indian male shuttlers broke into the top 50 ranks in the World. They are winning titles one after the other and bringing laurels to the country.
The game was always dominated by China, Indonesia, South Korea, and Malaysia back in the 70s and 80s. It was Prakash Padukone who was the torchbearer for Indian badminton at the international level and the first Indian to clinch the coveted All England title in 1980. He broke the Chinese monopoly back in the day with his deceptive strokes and net play.
Another Indian player who shone at International tournaments was Syed Modi,who won the Australian Open, and bronze at Delhi Asian Games to mention a few. In 2001 Pullela Gopichand won the much decorated All England title after a gap of 21 years.
Badminton has evolved over the years. Now the scoring system has changed where one earns a point if the opponent plays a negative. There are no side overs too. Also, the technique has changed to quite an extent, the defense game play too is almost gone.
After Gopichand, there weren’t many good Indian players at the international circuit for a long time. In 2006 Saina Nehwal, now ace Indian female shuttler made her mark internationally when she won the Philippines Open. She became the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships by defeating ninth seeded Japanese Sayaka Sato in 2008. She is also the first Indian player to win the Olympics bronze medal. She is considered as one of the most successful Indian female sportsperson with over twenty international titles, which include ten Super Series titles in her kitty. She has maintained her world ranking in the top 10 since 2009 and even went on to become the World No. 1 in 2015. She has also been conferred with the Padma Bhushan, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award by the Government of India.
Two months ago, 21-year-old Pusarla Venkata Sindhu became the youngest and the first Indian shuttler to win silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She recently won her maiden Super Series title- China Open 2016 too. In September 2012 Sindhu grabbed the international attention when she broke into the top 20 of the BWF World Ranking at the age of 17. She is also the first ever Indian women’s singles player to win a medal at the Badminton World Championships.
Apart from these two Indian female shuttlers, the male shuttlers fared equally well at the international level.
Parupalli Kashyap is the first Indian male shuttler to reach the Quarterfinals of men’s singles at the 2012 London Olympics. He has been out of the circuit many times because of injuries but that has only made him come back stronger. He has won the Syed Modi International twice, once in 2012 and next in 2015. He won Gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games too.
World No. 12 Kidambi Srikanth won his maiden Super Series title – the China Open in 2015 and became the first Indian to win a Super Series Premier Men’s title. He won the Syed Modi International Badminton Championships Grand Prix Gold title in 2016 and at the 2016 South Asian Games he won two gold medals too. He has also clinched the India Open (2015), Swiss Open (2015), Thailand Open (2013) and the Maldives International Challenge in 2012.
Ajay Jayaram is the current World No. 19 and has won the Dutch Open twice. He also has the Czech International (2010), Smiling Fish International (2010) and Waikato International (2008) titles to his name. H.S. Prannoy is placed at World No. 25 currently and has won titles like the Indonesian Masters (2014), Tata Open (2014) and Swiss Open (2016).
Another Indian to break into the top 50 is Sai Praneeth Bhamidipati who is the current World No. 36. The right-handed player has won the Canada Open Grand Prix Badminton Challenge (2016), Bangladesh Open International Badminton Challenge (2015), Lagos International (2015) and the Sri Lanka International Challenge (2015).
The Verma brothers too broke into the World top 50 rankings with Sameer Verma placed at World No. 43 and his sibling Sourabh Verma placed at World No. 45. The duo too have many trophies in their name. Sameer recently reached his maiden Super Series final and lost to Ng Ka-Long Angus in three sets after giving in a tough fight. Tata India International (2015), Bahrain International Challenge (2015, 2013) and the Bahrain International (2015, 2013) are the titles he has won till date. On the other hand, his sibling Sourabh has won the Chinese Taipei Maters (2016), Australian International (2014), Iran Fajr International (2014) and the India International (2013).
The women’s doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa has won Gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and many other international titles too. The mixed doubles pair V. Diju and Jwala Gutta won the Bitburger Open (2008) and the Chinese Taipei GP Gold (2009) to mention a few. Recently the pair of N. Sikki Reddy and Pranaav Jerry Chopra finished runners-up at the Scottish Open (2016). 15-year-old Lakshya Sen won his First Senior International title at Hyderabad International Series 2016. Rituparna Das, the 20-year-old female shuttler recently clinched her second international title. She won the India International Series 2016 and previously had won the Polish Open (2016) couple of months ago.
The current Indian badminton scene indeed looks bright, and with dedicated coaches like Vimal Kumar and Pullela Gopichand around, we can only expect more ace shuttlers to be ruling the international circuits.