The 2019 All England Badminton Championship is a day away and once again one question is being asked from all quarters: how long will India have to wait for another title?
Even the players are trying to play along by insisting how winning the coveted title is something special for them and building the pressure on themselves.
But each time the build-up to the tournament starts, I am reminded of the numerous media interactions Indonesia’s Taufiq Hidayat had over the years in India in which he would inevitability be quizzed on the absence of the All England crown in his trophy cabinet.
Initially, the Indonesian used to say how the tournament was special for everyone and though he would have loved to lift the All England trophy, he was satisfied with what he has achieved. Till one fine day, he decided to take the issue head on and told the reporter asking the question that he had won bigger titles like the World Championship, Olympics gold and the Indonesian Open.
It is true that the Indonesian Open was a higher level tournament than the All England till the world body introduced the Superseries structure in 2007 bringing all the major tournaments at par.
Hidayat probably could not understand India’s obsession for the tournament, which defined the success of an Indian badminton player.
When the legendary Prakash Padukone became the first Indian player to lift the title in 1980, the tournament was still billed as the unofficial world championship despite the world governing body starting an official one in 1977. This is probably why his triumphs in the Danish Open and Swedish Open went relatively unnoticed despite the same players playing in those events as well.
And between 1980 to 2001, Indian badminton was so starved of success in any major tournament (in tennis parlance they were winning a few ITF events but never finding success on the ATP/WTA Tour) that when a certain Pullela Gopichand defied all odds to clinch the title in 2001, his triumph became the rallying point for all budding shuttlers.
With most of the next generation stars also training under Gopichand, it was obvious that most of them want to emulate their coach and mentor.
But the real question is whether India should be so obsessed with the All England title given the success Indian badminton has had over the years. It only ends up putting additional pressure even on the players.
Since Saina Nehwal’s first Superseries title at the Indonesia Open Superseries in 2009, the London Olympics bronze medallist has won three Superseries premier events, a level equivalent to that of All England then, and seven Superseries titles. Even Kidambi Srikanth has three SS Premier titles to show for his efforts while even PV Sindhu has won one Premier event and ended 2018 with the BWF World Tour Finals crown.
Apart from that, the two Indian women have won multiple world championship medals, an Olympic and Asian Games medal each.
It is true that in the current BWF World Tour structure, the All England has been categorised as a Super 1000 event along with Indonesia Open and China Open since last year and hence has a slightly elevated status as compared to the other famous tournaments like the Denmark Open and the Malaysia Open.
But, to once again fall back on a the tennis analogy, it really is nothing like the difference between Grand Slams and Masters tournaments in terms of competition status or prize money.
If one analyses the chances of India’s top stars at the All England, the likes of Nehwal, Sindhu and Srikanth have been among the title contenders for the last few years and it is no different this time around.
Their chances of ending the title drought, which has now extended to 18 years, would depend largely on how they cope with the slow court conditions at Arena Birmingham and the quality of their play over the next five days.
We would have not been obsessing on another All England title had Nehwal managed to end the drought in 2015 when she lost to Carolina Marin after winning the first game.
Just for that reason, I hope one of India’s six singles players in the draw this year stand on that victory podium on Sunday and we can start treating it as just another important tournament in the calendar.