Having established itself as a force in modern-day badminton, 2017 could finally be the year an Indian wins the prestigious event for only the third time in history.
Though there are numerous sporting events across all sports, there is no denying that the prestige of certain events is seemingly way more than the others. For instance, no game of cricket compares to an India vs Pakistan encounter or an England vs Australia game in the Ashes.
Similarly, not only is the All England Badminton Championships one of the oldest badminton tournaments in the world, it's also easily the most prestigious events on the badminton calendar. Further, as prestigious as this event may be, there is no doubting the fact that winning a tournament of this magnitude not only helps to put the winning country on the badminton world map but also, helps in raising the popularity of the sport in the winner's homeland.
And this has certainly been the case with India. Prakash Padukone winning the above-mentioned event in 1980 and Pullela Gopichand doing an encore in 2001, are two of the biggest reasons why badminton today enjoys the status of being the second most popular sport in our country.
Change is the only constant
As commendable as the achievements of both Padukone and Gopichand are, the sport of badminton has changed significantly since their heydays. For instance, the old scoring system in badminton has now been replaced with a new one that makes for a faster game. More importantly, there no longer exists a Chinese hegemony in the game, as there was when the legendary Indians were in their prime.
As things stand, badminton is certainly catching on all over the world and this means that there isn't one particular country or a handful of countries dominating the others. And while this may not be good for any particular country, this is certainly great news for the sport itself.
A golden era
It's plain to see that India
While Saina Nehwal has undoubtedly carried the mantle of Indian badminton for the longest time, the recent emergence of compatriots such as P.V. Sindhu and Sikki Reddy in the women's category and H.S. Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth in the men's category, now mean that the responsibility of Indian badminton no longer rests on the shoulders of any one individual. Moreover, the achievements of the Indian players during the 2015-16 season truly make it a golden era for Indian badminton.
A year to remember
For all of India's badminton achievements in the past, the year 2016 will always be remembered as a watershed moment for Indian badminton. Until the Rio Olympics last year, Saina's bronze medal display at the 2012 London Games ranked as India's best showing at the Olympic Games. However, Sindhu rewrote the history books at the Rio Olympics, by becoming the first Indian woman to win a silver medal in badminton. Sindhu's success has once again rekindled India's love for the sport and more importantly, set the stage for even greater success this year.
A fitting contest
Given that both Saina and Sindhu are currently the face of Indian badminton, it's perhaps fitting that the pair might be on collision course at the ongoing All England Badminton Championships. Both Indian badminton queens have been in fine form in the tournament so far, and are only a win away from a potenetial face-off in the semi-finals.
While Saina has already made an early statement in the tournament by knocking out defending champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in the first round, Sindhu has managed to reach the quarter finals of the tournament for the first time. However, the next game will be a tough one for Sindhu as she takes the court against the current World no.1 Tai Zhu Ying.
If Sindhu does manage to get past her opponent from Chinese Taipei, she can expect to run into Saina in the semi- finals, in a contest that is certain to capture the imagination of Indians the world over. And given Saina's resurgent form since her return from injury, an all Indian matchup will certainly be one to savor.
Finally, given India's badminton performances in the last few years, the stage is now well and truly set for either of India's favorite daughters to bring back the All England title.