From 1983, India had to wait 28 years for a medal at the badminton World Championships. Prakash Padukone’s bronze medal in Copenhagen came not long after a pivotal All England title in 1980 for the all-time Indian great. But success at this event after that proved elusive. Pullela Gopichand came close in 2001, Anup Sridhar in 2007 and Saina Nehwal in 2009 and 2010... but a place on the podium was not to be.

That would change in 2011, thanks to Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa. Since then, India have had at least one medallist in every edition of the tournament.

The tournament might not have been the most coveted in the early days, with All England Open and Olympics (since 1992) perhaps taking that spot. But in the current era, alongside the aforementioned events, the World Championships stands as the true marker of quality in the badminton world. The best of the best descend in a city every year apart from Olympic years to determine who is the top of the rung.

The first World Championships were held in 1977 in Malmo. The World Championships began as a triennial event in 1977, becoming biennial after the third edition. It has since become an annual event after 2005, taking a break only during each Olympic year. 2021 was an exception as we saw both Olympic Games and Worlds in the same year (as Tokyo 2020 had to be postponed).

Now in 2022, we are back in Tokyo (different arena) for the 27th edition. And perhaps surprisingly, for the first time ever in Japan.

India’s first medal at the tournament, as with many firsts in the country’s badminton history, came courtesy Prakash Padukone. The original superstar of Indian badminton, Padukone’s biggest achievement remains the 1980 All England, but his bronze in 1983 was also a special achievement in a special career.

India's medals at Badminton World C'ships

Edition Host city Winner  Medal
1983 Copenhagen Prakash Padukone  Bronze
2011 London Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa Bronze
2013 Guangzhou PV Sindhu Bronze
2014 Copenhagen PV Sindhu Bronze
2015 Jakarta Saina Nehwal  Silver
2017 Glasgow PV Sindhu Silver
2017 Glasgow Saina Nehwal Bronze
2018 Nanjing PV Sindhu  Silver
2019 Basel Sai Praneeth Bronze
2019 Basel PV Sindhu  Gold
2021 Huelva Srikanth Kidambi  Silver
2021 Huelva Lakshya Sen  Bronze

The Worlds returned to Europe in 1983 for the third edition after heading to Asia (Jakarta 1980). Bronby Hallen in Copenhagen was sold out long before the finals in anticipation of victories by local stars Morten Frost and Lene Koppen. This was the first World Championships since China’s admission into the IBF (the governing body back then) and the newcomers immediately made their presence felt in the women’s events. Li Lingwei beat compatriot Han Aiping for the Women’s Singles crown, while Wu Dixi/Liu Ying overcame defending champions Perry/Webster. However, it was the Men’s Singles showdown that took everyone’s breath away, being hailed one of the greatest matches ever. Indonesian youngster Icuk Sugiarto (4) upset Frost and Prakash Padukone en route to the final against Liem Swie King. It was a brilliant exhibition between the attacking flair of King and the astounding defence of Sugiarto – the latter thwarting the big-hitting King for the world crown: 15-8 12-15 17-16

— via BWF Media

Also read:

Why Prakash Padukone’s All England title in 1980 was the crowning moment of a glorious career

Pause, rewind, play: When Prakash Padukone won All England 1980, Indian badminton changed forever

The run begins in 2011

The women’s doubles bronze in London 2011 was truly special for India. First, it ended a near three-decade for a medal at the Worlds. Secondly, it was the first major doubles medal for India. And till date, the only doubles medal of any kind at the the Worlds.

Ashwini-Jwala, having paired up to win a famous gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, produced a dream run in London, defeating two seeded pairs on the way to the semifinals, where they lost to the eventual silver medallists.

The win against second seeds Cheng Wen Hsing and Chien Yu Chin was the most impressive of the tournament for the Indian doubles pair.

World Championships is a tournament that has had a special place in the career of PV Sindhu, and the journey started with a brilliant bronze in 2013. She defeated two top Chinese players – Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian – in their own backyard in Guangzhou.

Pause, rewind, play: PV Sindhu’s 2013 World C’ship bronze medal was the start of something special

Sindhu would go on to win another bronze in 2014.

Then came Saina Nehwal’s historic run in 2015, as she became the first Indian shuttler ever to reach the final of the World Championships. And fittingly, it came at a venue where she has had some memorable results: Jakarta’s Istora.

Pause, rewind, play: When a 19-year-old Saina Nehwal won her first Superseries title in Indonesia

The London 2012 Olympics bronze medallist was the second seed of the event and her stiffest test came in the quarterfinals when she had to overcome a familiar rival in Wang Yihan in three games. Before 2015, Saina had defeated Wang only once (when the Chinese shuttler retired mid-match) in 10 meetings. But 2015 saw the Indian star defeat Wang first at All England and then in a 62-minute marathon at the Worlds to ensure her first medal of the event. A Chinese shuttler had ended her hopes of a podium finish in 2009 and 2010. But not this time, not in Jakarta.

The title would go to top seed Carolina Marin but that was another memorable first in Indian badminton history, courtesy Saina.

Glasgow 2017 was the first time that India won two medals at one edition. And who can forget that year. The two crown jewels of Indian badminton – Saina and Sindhu – both reached semifinals. They were both guaranteed a place on the podium.

While Saina’s run came to an end there, losing to eventual champion Nozomi Okuhara, Sindhu carried on. A win against Chen Yufei took her to the final and... what a final it was. Sindhu and Okuhara played one of the greatest badminton matches of all time, one that veteran commentator Gill Clark remembers till date and mentions so every now and then on air. A physical, emotional rollercoaster that deserved no loser saw Sindhu finish second best against Okuhara, who ended a Japanese wait of decades for a gold at the event.

Brutal rallies, tired limbs, triumphant spirit: Okuhara vs Sindhu was a match for the ages

And this rally... who can forget this rally?

And then, after winning three World Championships medals in her career, Sindhu would reach the final yet again in 2018. If she and Okuhara produced a battle for the ages in 2017, it was Marin who dominated the final this time around winning 21-19, 21-10. Sindhu’s fourth medal of the tournament had a bittersweet feeling to it.

“It’s very easy to focus on the last match, forgetting about the great semi-final [against Akane Yamaguchi], quarter-final [against Okuhara] and pre-quarterfinal [against Sung Ji Hyun],” Gopichand would remind reporters in Hyderabad after consecutive silver medals for Sindhu.

“She has put in a lot of good work and credit to her for fighting back in quarters and semis. The mental strength she showed in semis and quarters is what we should remember before bisecting the final as a standalone. That is what I’d want Sindhu to think, because it’s easy to forget the good work and focus on negatives,” he added.

Gopichand, at the end of her defeat in Glasgow, had said that he would regret that defeat against Okuhara only if Sindhu finished her career without a gold at the Worlds. Will she?

She won’t.

Basel 2019. The tournament that Sindhu might possibly regard as the best ever in her career. Sure, two Olympic medals are great but to win gold at the World Championships is special... and to win it the way she did is extraordinary. A sensational fightback against Tai Tzu Ying in the quarterfinals, a clinical performance against Chen Yu Fei in the semifinals and then, in a complete contrast to the slugfest of 2017, a demolition of Okuhara 21-7, 21-7 in the final. Sindhu, World Champion. The first ever Indian shuttler to achieve that feat.

Pause, rewind, play: When India’s PV Sindhu became badminton champion of the world

Basel also saw another long wait end for India with B Sai Praneeth becoming the first Indian since Padukone to reach the podium in men’s singles. After Sindhu’s fightback against Tai Tzu Ying in women’s singles quarterfinals, Sai Praneeth then ended India’s 36-year wait for a men’s singles medal with a 24-22, 21-14 win over Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie of Indonesia.

[Archive]: Sindhu and Sai Praneeth’s historic run makes Basel 2019 a pleasant surprise for India

2021 would be a rare blip for Sindhu at this event. Tai Tzu Ying would prove too good for the Indian star in the quarterfinals. But Lakshya Sen and Srikanth Kidambi ensured India’s record of winning at least one medal at the World Championships would continue. Only the marauding Loh Kean Yew had a better tournament than the two Indians. Srikanth defeated Lakshya in the semifinals to become the first Indian male shuttler to reach the final of the World Championships.

Srikanth Kidambi and the importance of self-belief

In Lakshya Sen’s present, we can see a bright future

For the second time in the history of the tournament, India had two medallists on the podium. Sindhu and Saina in Glasgow, Srikanth and Lakshya in Huelva.

Screenshots in the article courtesy: Tournament Software

BWF World Championships from 22nd August will be broadcast on Sports18 1 SD & HD and streamed on Voot Select in India