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In February this year, back when the entire country was gearing up for a sport-filled year complete with massive tournaments like the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, Indian Badminton star Sameer Verma defeated heavyweight shuttler Jan O Jorgensen to lift the Swiss Open title. Jorgensen, a former World No. 2, was on his comeback tournament after being out on injury for quite a few months before his appearance in the tournament finals. Verma, for his part, became only the third Indian to lift the Men's Singles title after Srikanth Kidambi and HS Prannoy won the titles in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Little did he know that this would end up to be one of the most significant victories for an Indian of the year. Given how Indian Badminton reached and conquered new heights just the year before, expectations were predominantly high from the "stars," so to speak, from India. 2017 was a watershed year for the sport in India. Indian Badminton was a significant part of the psyche for the sports audience back at home mainly due to the fantastic landmarks that Singles Badminton in India had reached. Following up from a scintillating Olympic performance by PV Sindhu, 2017 went on to witness four Superseries titles from Srikanth Kidambi, an all-Indian final at the Syed Modi Grand Prix, a double podium finish by PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal at the World Championships. Additionally, we witnessed Sai Praneeth winning his first Superseries title when he won the Singapore Open in April 2017, and HS Prannoy, the giant killer, defeating Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long in quick succession at the Indonesian Open. In fact, beating Lee Chong Wei was an achievement he repeated twice- the second time at the Denmark Open. Let's talk predominantly about Men's Singles Badminton here. Given the growing list of achievements by the male shuttlers, 2018 was supposed to be another fantastic year for the sport. Several factors, however, have led to disappointments in that sector. If we dis-count the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medals and focus just on the BWF tournaments, Sameer Verma's victory stands out as a bright spot in an otherwise dull year. In addition to Sameer Verma, who won two Super 300 titles- the recent one coming barely yesterday at the Syed Modi, the other winners from the year include brother Sourabh Verma who bagged the Russian Open and the Dutch Open Super 100 titles, and Subhanker Dey, who had an amazing run to win the SaarLorLux Super 100 title.
Let's talk rankingsAt the beginning of the year, Srikanth Kidambi was India's top-ranked shuttler lounging at No.3. Come April, India would even see him briefly bag the top ranking in a historical instance. But this euphoria was short-lived. HS Prannoy was the second-ranked Indian at World No 10 with Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma bringing up the next two positions at World No 16 and 30 respectively. The end of the year paints a different picture. Srikanth Kidambi, at the end of a mostly disappointing year with a few bright spots, is now down at 8. But credit where it is due- he has been playing some good badminton lately, and results and rankings often provide a partial picture. Who can forget that marathon Round of 16 match between him and Prannoy which ended in an 18-21, 30-29, 21-18 scoreline. The second-ranked Indian now is none other than Sameer Verma. Prannoy is down to third at World No 23 while Sai Praneeth is ranked at World No. 28. For Sameer, 2018 saw a quarterfinal finish at Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, India Open, and Denmark; a semifinal finish at the Orleans Masters, and a Super 100 title in Hyderabad- he indeed was successful in carving a niche for himself. While India did manage to create history at the Commonwealth Games courtesy a fantastic medal haul in every badminton event, the bigger picture of Indian Badminton seems to suggest that this year has seen the best of Sameer Verma in the sport. While keeping in mind that the fray at Syed Modi is primarily depleted, a title in Lucknow meant a qualification for the World Tour Finals for Verma- which really is the perfect end of the year for the season he has had. While the stars struggled with consistency Sameer Verma indeed has emerged the unlikely hero for Indian Mens Singles in 2018.