A look at the Top 5 Indian badminton players of all time
Observing a meteoric rise in recent history, Indian badminton has soared to glory owing to the efforts of the country's very own champion shuttlers.
Although badminton has been a part and parcel of the Indian sports circuit for a long time, the past decade has seen a meteoric rise in its performance as well as popularity. Glittering with success stories – India has steadily escalated up the South-East Asian crowded ladder and now occupies a prominent position. Having bagged 2 medals - a bronze and a silver from two consecutive Olympics, have had at least two players - Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth assume the helm spot on the BWF rankings and finally, fetched themselves the elusive World Championship crown in 2019, India has done it all.
Let's take a look at all the top players who transformed the face of Indian badminton:
#5 Prakash Padukone
Known as the 'Father of Indian Badminton', Prakash Padukone is the pioneer figure of Indian badminton. Taking India to the global stage and earning it recognition for the first time – Prakash Padukone entered the nation's name into the pages of Commonwealth history by becoming a gold medallist at the 1978 Games.
Following this success, Padukone continued his conquests far and wide – winning both nationally and internationally and eventually won the 1980 All England Badminton Open. The oldest existing badminton tournament till date, winning at the All England ensured that India was put on the global badminton map permanently thanks to Padukone's heroic victory against Indonesian legend Liem Swie King in the championship match.
Moreover, Prakash Padukone, in his efforts to give back to the sport that gave him so much, decided to open the Prakash Padukone Centre of Excellence, one of the very first badminton academies that boast of state-of-the-art training facilities for the nurturing of budding shuttlers. Today, Padukone is hailed as a legend of the sport and his academy is one of the best in the country.
#4 Pullela Gopichand
Taken under the wing of Prakash Padukone himself, Pullela Gopichand was always destined for success given his sheer talent with the racquet. Gopichand was used to winning and soon picked up his first national title in 1996 and then bagged the next four on the trot, as well.
Leading the charge of the Indian men in badminton, Gopichand spearheaded the way to a silver medal for the men's team at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. This Andhra Pradesh star also won himself a bronze at the same Games in the men's singles event as well.
An Asian Championships bronze medallist, Gopichand created history by becoming the second Indian male badminton player to win the prestigious All England Open title in 2001. The victory was a hard-won fight as Gopichand had to tame yet another legend of the sport, the then World No. 1 player, Denmark's Peter Gade in the semi-finals.
However, Gopichand's career was littered with injuries and multiple knee surgeries which forced his career to be drawn to a premature close. Perhaps this development turned out to be quite the boon for India as Gopichand turned his attention from playing to coaching instead and thus began his efforts to revolutionize the face of Indian badminton.
Starting the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, the Dronacharya Awardee began attracting budding shuttlers to it and nurtured them to perfection. Many current stalwarts of the game have graced the courts of the famed Gopichand Academy – most prominent of those are Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth, to name a few.
#3 Saina Nehwal
It was with Saina Nehwal that the country began to sit up and take proper notice of badminton as this gutsy Haryanvi went on a spirited quest to fetch glory for India in the fastest racquet sport in the world. Known for her powerful smashes and admirable mental strength, Nehwal started causing much uproar in the Junior circuit before she found herself winning the Philippines Open in 2006, a 4-star tournament, a feat unachieved previously by any Indian.
At her debut Olympics in 2008 at Beijing, Saina Nehwal burst into the quarter-finals before losing within sight of a maiden medal at the Games. However, this was only the beginning of her reign as Nehwal stomped around to bag India's first BWF Superseries title in 2009 and followed it up with a gold medal win at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In 2012, Nehwal created Olympic history by becoming the first Indian badminton player and a female at that, to win a maiden medal in the sport when she picked up the bronze in London. Fighting off Denmark's Tine Baun, Nehwal found herself in the semi-finals against China's Wang Yihan. Although she lost that encounter, she earned herself a place to battle it out for the bronze against yet another Chinese, Wang Xin.
The stars conspired for Nehwal on that day as Xin, hurt herself badly mid-match and had to discontinue, retiring after winning the first game and the first point of the next. Saina Nehwal automatically got a walk over and clinched the first medal for India in badminton in the form of a glistening bronze.
In 2015, Nehwal cemented herself at the top of the BWF rankings when she became the World No. 1 - the first Indian to do so. With 24 titles to her credit currently, Nehwal is a feared opponent on court. However, a lot of injuries have punctuated her well-decorated career as well. A 3-time Olympian, the 31-year-old star shuttler will always remain as the person who transformed the landscape of Indian badminton.
#2 Kidambi Srikanth
Dubbed in the same line as Saina and Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth has been the shining star in the men's badminton circuit. Taking the world by storm by winning the 2014 China Open title by defeating 2-time Olympic gold medalist Lin Dan – Srikanth claimed the very first BWF Super Series title bagged by an Indian male shuttler.
Although his 2016 Rip Olympics outing was stopped short by Lin Dan again in the quarter final stages, Srikanth's ascent to the top had already begun. In 2017, the Guntur-born player shook things up on the global circuit by winning 4 BWF Super Series titles. His conquests helped him hoist himself up the rankings ladder till he found himself at the perch at World No. 1 in 2018. After Nehwal, Srikanth became the second Indian to man the top-spot of the BWF rankings.
Sadly, even Kidambi's career has been hindered by a lot of injuries but he is on a comeback streak nonetheless. At the Swiss Open in 2021, Srikanth made it to the semi-finals and he was just points away from qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics as well.
#1 PV Sindhu
Saving the best for the last, the poster girl of Indian badminton, PV Sindhu has completely changed the face of the game. Tall and lanky, this feisty Hyderabadi is also a pupil of Pullela Gopichand and has quite a number of glittering successes to her credit.
PV Sindhu announced her arrival to the world when she bagged a bronze at the 2013 World Championships, indicative of the better days to come. In 2014, Sindhu repeated her bronze feat at the World Championships once more and found her way to Rio in 2016.
In incredible form, PV Sindhu played aggressively yet passionately and stormed past the likes of Michelle Li, Tai Tzu Ying, Nozomi Okuhara to set up a delectable gold medal clash against arch-rival Carolina Marin in the Olympic finals. In a gruelling affair of 1 hour and 23 minutes, PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin fought tooth and nail over three tight games before the Spaniard prevailed and PV Sindhu created history by winning the first silver medal for India at the Olympics in badminton.
In 2019, PV Sindhu added yet another feather to her cap when she finally undid the jinx and clinched the World Championships crown in Basel by defeating Japan's Nozomi Okuhara. A former World No. 3, Sindhu is India's pride and hope for the country as she heads into the Tokyo Olympics. It remains to be seen if this talented shuttler can improve on her 2016 performance and bag a gold and create history for India.