Despite recent failures Indian badminton stands on verge of world domination

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Despite recent failures Indian badminton stands on verge of world domination

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Subhayan Dutta

07/21/2018

Despite India ending Thailand Open with nothing to show in their cabinet yet again, the international badminton circuit remains largely to be conquered by a nation. A closer look at the five major tournaments held this year so far shows hardly any dominance by others that was once the crux.

China’s dominance in Badminton had shown signs of fading back in 2012 when as many as eight female shuttlers were disqualified from the Rio Olympics after they were accused of throwing away their matches in order to get a favorable draw. They accepted it publicly and that, more than anything, signaled the end of their unparalleled reign on the court on the world stage.

Not only China, but badminton hasn’t, for a couple of years, seen a kind of dominance as historical as that of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. Their unparalleled supremacy on the court had led the media to name the entire decade from 2006 to 2016 as the Lin-Lee era, and there was a good reason to it. The duopoly swiped aside almost every player that stood in their way, which eventually resulted in them playing 40 matches with each other. They are currently the only two badminton men singles players who have faced each other in two Olympic finals consecutively.

Over the years, while the likes of legendary Taufik Hidayat and Denmark great Peter Gade faded away, Lee and Lin showed brilliant adaption to the changing style of the game despite Viktor Axelsen eventually breaking the trend. Despite the newer crop emerging, they have found a way to stay relevant sitting in the top ten even today.

However, with the legends well in their middle 30s, badminton cannot boast of a legendary player in the making at the moment and the recent results in five tournaments - Thailand Open, Indonesia Open, Malaysia Open, India Open, and All England Open - that has concluded this year so far reflects why. The tournaments have seen nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Chinese Taipei, China and Hong Kong all winning in different categories, with India having an occasional presence here and there.

This, more than anything, leaves the entire field to take over for a budding breed of Indian players, who have exhibited exhilarating strength and technique in all the four categories – men’s and women’s singles, and men’s and mixed doubles. No nation has found a stronghold on all the categories as such, barring Japan of late in the recently concluded Thailand Open, who saw their shuttlers winning in three categories -  men’s singles, men’s doubles, and women’s singles.

India’s Kidambi Srikanth stands the best chance of re-establishing the supremacy he had last year when he ended up with four Superseries titles. The Men’s singles category has seen many contenders in the five major tournaments with Kanta Tsuneyama winning the Thailand Open, Chinese World No. 3 Shi Yuqi winning the All England Open and India Open, Malaysian World No. 7 Lee Chong Wei winning the native Malaysia Open, Viktor Axelsen lifting the Malaysia Masters title, and Kento Momota clinching the Indonesia Open.

Srikanth has beaten all of them in his career and if approached properly, could take India to the next level. 35-year-old Lee Chong Wei and 34-year-old Lin Dan are on their way out, with Axelsen the only sturdy competitor, against whom Srikanth trails just 4-3 in head to head. However, the Indian has been terrible so far this year, managing to progress beyond the round 2 only twice in five tournaments, where he lost to Momota in Malaysia Open semi-finals and Iskandar Zulkarnian in India Open quarter-finals.

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Among all the categories, India’s strongest contenders are in the women’s singles with PV Sindhu being the most consistent from amongst everyone in the Indian contingent. In the above five tournaments, Sindhu has reached two semi-finals, two finals, and one quarter-final. However, unlike the men’s, Sindhu’s road isn’t as smooth for she has some of the fiercest contemporaries on her path. Chinese Taipei world No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying is widely believed to be the best in her trade in the women’s singles category, who won the All England Open, Malaysia Open and Indonesia Open so far. However, she doesn't have a solo dominance here too, as Singapore’s Beiwen Zhang won the India Open and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon clinched the Malaysia Masters title, leaving the World No. 3 a huge scope to climb the ladder.

Saina Nehwal, however, cannot be blamed for her faltering form now. The 28-year-old was the only torch-bearer for India once, taking the nation to heights that it never imagined. It was she who made a dent into the Chinese dominance in the mid 2000s and still continues to play while her contemporaries, which included legends like China’s Wang Yihan, Wang Lin, Xie Xingfang, Lu Lan, and Hong Kong’s Zhou Mi  and Wang Chen, have all retired five to seven years back. And after two Commonwealth Games gold medals, 10 Superseries titles, former World No. 1 ranking, and a knee surgery, it was only right that she has passed on the baton to PV Sindhu and Srikanth. It is only her determination that has kept Nehwal going and winning the gold in CWG early this year was nothing short of extraordinary.

Age has also been against her now making the competition way more difficult for Nehwal. In the top 10 women’s ranking, apart from 28-year-old Nehwal, only 26-year-old Sung Ji Hyun remains on the higher side of 20, with the likes of Yamaguchi, Okuhara, Intanon, Tai Tzu Ying all in their peak form, fitness, and youth. Age, however, wouldn’t be much of a concern for Srikanth, who has competitors more on the aged side with Chou Tien Tien, Chen Long, Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei standing on his way.

India’s doubles teams have come under a lot of criticism with many claiming that the federation hasn’t focused more on providing the right coaching for vibrant talents like Swastiksairaj Rankireddy and Sikki Reddy in men's doubles category and mixed doubles respectively. They are still working on their partners with Rankireddy paired with Chirag Shetty and Sikki Reddy with Pranav Jerry Chopra. 

Indian men’s doubles duo has endured a horrendous outing so far in the major tournaments with them unable to go the past round 2 itself. And the road up front doesn’t look very smooth either as the men’s doubles scenario is majorly dominated by Indonesia and Japan. While the Indonesian pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo won the India Open, Indonesia Open and All England Open, the Japanese pair of Kamura and Sonoda won the Thailand Open and Malaysia Open. Indonesia has yet another contender in the pair of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto, who won the Malaysia Masters.

On the contrary, Rankireddy could exploit the mixed doubles path quite easily with a little bit of tweak in tactics and a change in her partner may be. Although their condition is equally gloomy with the pairing of Jerry/Rankireddy advancing from round 2 only once in India Open, where they reached the semi-finals, she doesn’t have any dominatrix on the court. While Denmark’s Mathias Christiansen/Christina Pedersen lifted the India Open, Hong Kong’s Tang Chan Man/Tse Ying Suet won the Malaysia Masters. Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad/Lilyana Natsir won the Indonesia Open as Japan’s Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino bettered all to win the All England Open. China’s Zhang Siwei/Huang Yaqiong won the Malaysia Open as Indonesia’s Hafiz Faizal/Gloria Widjaja clinched the Thailand Open leaving the mixed doubles field as open as it can be.

While there is no doubt that the Indian badminton is now in a much better place than it was a decade ago, it is also true that India now has the perfect window to dominate the international badminton circuit like never before, given the kind of talent they have.

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