Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


What happened to the once-trusted Indian badminton stars?

Dismal performances from seasoned Indian badminton shuttlers like Kidambi Srikanth, Saina Nehwal and others in the recent past invite concern.

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth


Sohinee Basu

Published: 28 Oct 2021 4:46 PM GMT

The tale of Indian badminton might have sounded like a fairytale till a few years back with Indian shuttlers regularly featuring in the deep-end of various tournaments, going on to medal and fetch back laurels with fair consistency, but things have glaringly changed now. The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought a standstill to the whole world but surprisingly enough, a lull has also set in - especially, in terms of form of the seasoned Indian shuttlers, who aren't being able to deliver at their best level, after coming back to the BWF tour.

As any ardent Indian badminton fan, it deeply saddens just about any of us when we see the very same people - Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, B. Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy, Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy, who once brought glory, fail to do so, putting on scratchy performances. The 2021 season jolted to a start for the BWF after the Tokyo Olympics with the team championship events including the Sudirman Cup, Thomas and Uber Cup Finals, followed by the Denmark Open and currently, the French Open.

India participated in all of the events but the results, except for that in the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals where the men's and women's teams reached the quarters respectively, were lacklustre and could very well be forgotten. The concern at large is not with the select few like PV Sindhu or the duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty, all three Tokyo-returned, with either a medal to show for it, or brave wins to display. But once we look through the magnifying glass and each of the veterans are assessed on their form, it is indeed a miserable sight currently with star players like Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, HS Prannoy and the likes on an early-rounds-exit trot.

The growth of Indian badminton is actually a mirage?

Kidambi Srikanth's path is being constantly blocked by a resurgent Kento Momota (Source: BWF)

On paper, Indian badminton may look glossy thanks to PV Sindhu being constantly in the limelight. Satwik-Chirag also does their fair share to keep badminton in the positive news, but apart from this trio, it is indeed bleak. Prakash Padukone, in an interview with The Bridge, had lamented the lack of depth in Indian badminton after Sindhu and in reality, that is the harsh truth and better days are only a looming mirage at this stage.

Call it the work of fate but for former World No. 1, Kidambi Srikanth, it hasn't been the best of years in trying to make a comeback as he has had to cross paths repeatedly with the reigning World No. 1, Kento Momota. Save for a semi-final appearance at the 2021 Swiss Open where he lost to eventual Tokyo Olympics gold medallist, Viktor Axelsen, Kidambi's year is yet to start off in full fashion.

At the consecutive Denmark Open 2021 and French Open 2021, Kidambi had to face Momota in the second and first rounds, respectively, and in both cases he suffered a loss that helped the Japanese to take their head to head up to 14-3. Momota, as well, isn't enjoying his best form as well ever since his return to the tour following a near-death experience he suffered in 2020, but he had enough ammunition to tame the former World No. 1. In fact, Srikanth's last final appearance goes back to the India Open in 2019, where once again, he had lost to Axelsen.

Saina Nehwal has retired twice in the last 3 matches she has played (Source: BWF)

For 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist, Saina Nehwal, it has been a very poor show as well. The 31-year-old veteran of the sport is clearly not in her best form and it shows in her struggle to move on the court as flexibly she would before. Having failed to make the Tokyo Olympics cut as well, Nehwal reached the semi-finals at the Orleans Masters this year but since the BWF season restarted after the Olympics, Nehwal has been able to complete one match, and retire from two others, losing all 3 in the process. This kind of form is enough to ring the alarm bells for the former World No. 1 who had taken Indian badminton to the greatest of heights. Her last title win took place at the 2019 Indonesia Masters and subsequently she has played 28 team and individual tournaments and she hasn't been able to reach the finals even once.

For Parupalli Kashyap, the numbers are similarly bad as the quarter-finalist from the London Olympics, hasn't moved beyond the first round in his last 10 tournaments and a quarter-final spot has evaded him for the last 15 tournaments as well. Kashyap, lost to Brice Leverdez in a three setter and things looked dismal for him. Similarly, HS Prannoy also met with a tough challenge from Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien Chen in his first round match at the French Open 2021, where he also lost. Even more glaringly, Prannoy hasn't made it past the second round in the last 18 tournaments he has played.

For the Tokyo-returned B. Sai Praneeth, a major drop in form has happened too. At the Tokyo Olympics, Praneeth failed to win a single game, let alone a match and crashed out in the group stages. Lacking confidence and nursing a bothering back problem, Praneeth has been far from his best recently. Naturally, he hasn't made it to the quarters of any event in the immediate past - his lone triumphant moment goes back to the 2019 World Championships, where he bagged a historic bronze medal.

Ashwini Ponnappa-N. Sikki Reddy have not won a single tournament in the last 3 years (Source: BWF)

Coming to doubles which is anyway the Achilles heel of Indian badminton, the once-trusted duo of Ashwini Ponnappa-N. Sikki Reddy are also not enjoying their usual form and lost their first round match at the 2021 French Open as well. At the 2021 Denmark Masters International Challenger, Ashwini-Sikki ended up as runners-up while they reached till the quarters of the All England Open 2021 - these two being the major highlights of their year so far. But if we are to go back all the way to 2019, the duo of Ashwini-Sikki hasn't won a single title and has mostly had early first-round exits. In this time span, they have been the runners-up thrice only - at the 2021 Denmark Masters International Challenger, 2019 Maldives International Challenger, Super 100 Hyderabad Open 2019.

In conclusion, to strip matters down to the coarse reality, only PV Sindhu and the pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty remain as the beacon of hope in Indian badminton. A new dawn seems far too difficult and unrealistic, given the conditions. As we move closer towards Paris 2024 with every passing day, this trio of Indian badminton players only seem positive to maintain their form, if all is to go well. Among the new forces, Lakshya Sen, the duo of Rutaparna Panda and Tanisha Crasto and Malvika Bansod and Tasnim Mir are present in the horizon, but the clock is ticking and they must start creating big splashes in this pool, to swim ahead comfortably.

Next Story