Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have given India a new sport to savour in the last decade and a half, winning World Championships and Olympics medals in a sport where such levels of success had not been seen before.
Since 2010, first with Saina's rise and then Sindhu's takeover, there has consistently been at least one Indian women's singles player who has been in the discussion for the top titles. Saina, now 33, is in the twilight of her career, while Sindhu, 27, currently finds herself out of the top 10 rankings. "It's a good age, there is no reason for concern," said Pullela Gopichand.
Looking forward, however, can there be someone who can take on the baton from Sindhu and maintain India's strong tradition in women's singles? We look at 7 contenders from among the most talented young shuttlers in the badminton circuit.
1) Malvika Bansod
The current heir apparent is 21-year-old Malvika Bansod of Maharashtra, who can be said to have overtaken her contemporary Aakarshi Kashyap. The narrative was never clearer than last year, when she, playing in her first BWF Super 500 tournament, beat Saina Nehwal and progressed to the India Open quarterfinal. She then reached the 2022 Syed Modi International final.
Malvika took up badminton when she was eight years old. In 2018, after failing to qualify for the Asian Junior Championships, she won two consecutive selection tournaments to represent India at the World Junior Championship in Canada. In 2019 She shifted to train under chief junior national badminton coach Sanjay Mishra. She made her senior international debut in September 2019 with a title victory in the Maldives International Future Series Badminton Tournament.
She broke into the world's top 200 in 2019, the same year she won the All India senior ranking tournament and the All India junior ranking tournament.
Current Rank - 45
Win/Loss Record - 76/50
International Achievements - Nepal International Series 2019 winner, Uganda International Series 2021 winner, Italian International Challenge 2022 runner-up, Syed Modi Super 300 2022 runner-up.
2) Tasnim Mir
The other likely candidate to perhaps one day feature in the top spots in the senior rankings is the 18-year-old Tasnim Mir from Gujarat. She has one achievement which neither Saina nor Sindhu can boast of - the World Junior No.1 ranking. Sindhu had reached as far as 2nd and junior rankings were not there during Saina's time.
Tasnim was introduced to badminton by her father, who worked in the police department but was also a badminton coach, when she was seven years old. At 12, she stopped attending school to focus on badminton training. Mir trained briefly at the Gopichand Badminton Academy in 2018. Since then, she has been training under Indonesian coach Edwin Iriawan at the Assam Badminton Academy in Guwahati for the last five years.
In 2019 she broke through the domestic junior ranks by winning the national U-19 girls' title while still 14. Mir represented India at the 2020 Thomas & Uber Cup. She claimed the singles title at the India International Challenge badminton tournament in Raipur, Chhattisgarh in September 2022, upsetting several seeded players. In January 2022 she became the first Indian to grab the world no 1 ranking in the under-19 girls singles in the BWF junior rankings.
Current Rank - 52
Win/Loss Record - 99/33
International Achievements - Iran Fajr International Challenge 2022 winner, India Chattisgarh International Challenge 2022 winner, Iran Fajr international Challenge 2023 runner-up.
3) Unnati Hooda
The new kid on the block, 15-year-old Unnati Hooda has caused quite the flutter over the last year, beating several heralded opponents like Aditi Bhatt and Tasnim Mir - both of whom have been part of India’s Uber Cup squads.
Born in Chamaria village, Rohtak, Haryana, Unnati was enrolled into the Parvesh Kumar-run badminton academy at Chotu Ram Stadium at Rohtak when she was seven years old.
In January 2022, Unnati won the 2022 Odisha Open, her first-ever BWF World Tour title. She was a silver medalist at the 2022 Badminton Asia Junior U17 and U15 Championships held in Nonthaburi, Thailand in the U17 singles event. She was also part of India's 2022 Uber Cup team.
Current Rank - 130
Win/Loss Record - 43/30
International Achievements - India International Challenge 2021 runner-up, Odisha Open Super 100 2022 winner.
4) Aakarshi Kashyap
Perhaps the most accomplished of the lot but currently going through a rough patch, the 22-year-old Aakarshi has been in the spotlight since her valiant defeat to Saina Nehwal in the senior National Badminton Championship in 2017.
She was part of the Indian team at the 2018 Asian Games, the 2019 South Asian Games, the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Mixed Team Championships this year.
Current Rank - 40
Win/Loss Record - 133/70
International Achievements - Maldives International Challenge 2022 winner, Bangladesh International Challenge 2022 winner.
5) Ashmita Chaliha
Current Rank - 46
Win/Loss Record - 64/34
International Achievements - Tata Open India International Challenge 2018 winner, Dubai International Challenge 2018 winner, Bangladesh International Challenge 2022 runner-up.
6) Tanya Hemanth
Current Rank - 53
Win/Loss Record - 69/40
International Achievements - India International Challenge 2022 winner, Iran Fajr International Challenge 2023 winner, Polish Open International Challenge 2021 runner-up.
7) Anupama Upadhaya
Current Rank - 87
Win/Loss Record - 70/29
International Achievements - India International Challenge 2021 winner, Polish Open International Challenge 2022 winner.