The turn of the century brought some brilliant new Indian shuttlers to the fore. Shuttlers who would go on to achieve a lot over the years. In the last two decades or so, the sport has produced some exciting young talent. Talent which has taken the world by storm and solidified themselves as some of the best players of this era.
Players such as Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Srikanth Kidambi, HS Prannoy, Chirag Shetty, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Ashwini Ponappa, and several others.
India has a strong contingent of shuttlers, who have time and again flirted with the top spots in the world rankings. Srikanth even managed to attain the number one spot, albeit only for a week.
Over the years, the Indian contingent reached several finals, winning some and losing some. Their most recent success as a unit was at the Commonwealth Games, where Badminton became one of the best performing sports for India.
Sindhu reached yet another final on Sunday, this time at the BWF World Championship. She beat several tough opponents en-route to the final, where she came face-to-face with Carolina Marin. Th two shuttlers had identical records to one another, with both Marin and Sindhu on six wins each.
Sindhu had won the last meeting between the two shuttlers, whereas Marin had taken the match when the two last met at the Championship. The game was evenly tied before the beginning.
Game one began in a similar balanced manner, with both the players following each other intimately. However, after the mid-game break, it seemed Sindhu would edge this one and take the lead in the match. Marin rallied back, nonetheless, levelled the game and eventually won as a dejected Sindhu walked off the court.
Sindhu knew she had to give her all to stay in the match, and many expected her to do just the same. However, Carolina Marin came flying off the blocks in Game Two and took an unassailable lead. The Indian shuttler couldn’t keep up with the pace and energy of her Spanish rival, who took home the game, the match, and the championship.
As Sindhu walked off the court to congratulate her opponent, a worrying familiarity came to the fore.
This was the fourth straight final Sindhu had lost in 2018, after losing at the Commonwealth Games, the Indian Open and the Thailand Open. All in all, this was the twelfth final the Indian shuttler had lost, as compared to the ten she had won.
The match in itself once again demonstrated Sindhu’s weaknesses this deep in a tournament, with the Indian the second best in fitness, endurance, and mental strength on the day.
However, this is not a rant against Sindhu.
This is not to question her achievements as an individual. Because let’s be honest, PV Sindhu is one of the best shuttlers the country has ever produced. The 23-year-old is hugely skilful when it comes to that and has shown her talent in the past, getting better of strong opposition on several occasions.
Take the example of this year’s World Championships. Sindhu, on her way to the final, beat three top-ten ranked opponents in the preceding rounds. The Indian shuttler beat ninth-seed Sung Ji-Hyun in the round of 16, followed by eighth seed Nozomi Okuhara in the quarters and final second-seed Akane Yamaguchi in the semis. Moreover, Sindhu took just two games to finish all three matches. Nevertheless, the final hurdle was once again the youngsters undoing, as she lost for the fourth straight final in 2018.
If you compare Sindhu’s record in finals to some of the top shuttlers, you will find that the Indian falls way behind them.
Take Sindhu’s World Championship opponent Marin for example. The Spaniard has so far won all the World and European Championship finals she has appeared in, bringing home a staggering seven gold medals in the process. Moreover, Marin also has an Olympic gold to her name, along with six BWF Superseries golds.
On her latest exploits, Marin had this to say, when she was interviewed by the Indian Express,“I believed myself during the game. I told myself she was leading; I have to fight. I have to show that she can’t beat me today. Second game I wanted to show her I wanted to win the game.”
Marin overturned a deficit in Game One to take the lead. A similar opportunity presented itself to Sindhu in Game Two. However, she never recovered from the Spaniard’s early domination and ended up losing the final.
Sindhu, however, is not the only shuttler, to have lost in uncomfortable circumstances. Srikanth and Saina have done so as well on many occasions, indicating that the problem is not restricted to just Sindhu. Srikanth, who lost the 2018 Commonwealth Games final to Lee Chong Wei, has shown similar symptoms in the past.
Seeing some of the best Indian shuttlers falter again and again at the highest stage is cause for concern, It shows that somehow, even though we claim ourselves to be one of the best Badminton nations, we are a cut below the rest.
India is a world-class Badminton nation, without a doubt. But why is it that our shuttlers are faltering at the last stage? Why aren’t more final appearances being converted into a gold medal? Why are our shuttlers falling behind their opponents regarding mental strength and match fitness?
Again, this is not a rant towards the players.
Instead, a plea to understand, what exactly it is that we are lacking. Our shuttlers are consistent enough to go deep into the premier tournaments again and again and yet stumble when the conditions are not in their favour. Admittedly, at this point, we need to start looking beyond just technique and skill and understand if we are neglecting some critical factors, which affect players.
The next phase of Indian Badminton is crucial. We have the tools to be the best nation in this particular sport. We need to uncover the factors that are restricting our shuttlers from unleashing their absolute best under challenging conditions.
Speaking of severe conditions, Asian Games are up next, and both the Men and Women can expect to face almost all of the top shuttlers in the world. India’s hopes will be once again be carried by a talented and exciting bunch, who can hopefully replicate their CWG form, albeit under much tougher circumstances.
I would like to end this article by praising a shuttler who has been at the receiving end of a lot of criticism this past week- PV Sindhu.
The Indian shuttler is still very young and has already beaten some of the best in the world. Sindhu has time and again proven her mettle by going deep into several tournaments. Although the shuttler has an unfavourable record in the finals, Sindhu has time and again proven to be one of the most consistent performers around.
Summing up, Indian players such as PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth have obvious talent. However, there are still some tweaks that need to be made to bring out their best self. Hopefully, all the areas in which Indian shuttlers are falling behind will be looked at soon and fixed for the future.