When the Indian badminton contingent headed to Basel, Switzerland, for the 2019 BWF World Championship last week, the question that was being asked by many fans was whether the shuttlers could continue the six-year streak of winning at least one medal in the prestigious event.
Women’s doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa had started that dream run when they won a medal for India after 28 years at the Worlds in 2011. PV Sindhu, with four medals in five editions since, and Saina Nehwal, with her two medals (2015 and 2017), had ensured that India had not returned empty handed from the championships.
Whether anyone admitted or not, that run was under serious threat this year.
After all, most of the top players struggling for form in the season. Even the reliable PV Sindhu had reached just one final all year and was faced with the daunting prospect of taking on her nemesis Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-finals. And the late withdrawal of Thailand Open men’s doubles champions Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy only added to the disappointing build up.
Fast forward to Friday, August 23 and India were assured of two more medals, taking their World Championships tally to 10.
Most lingering doubts were blown awayat the St Jakobshalle stadium when Sindhu first came from behind to pack off Tai Tzu 12-21, 23-21, 21-19 in 71 minutes and 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.
The victory over Tai Tzu means that Sindhu will be the joint-most successful women’s singles shuttler in the history of the tournament. She will have five world championship medals to her name at the age of just 24 and has equalled the tally of former Olympics and World Champion Zhang Ning, who also had won a gold, two silver and two bronze in the prestigious tournament. China’s Li Lingwei won four medals including two gold between 1983 and 1989 in women’s singles and a gold and silver in women’s doubles.
The medal winning run also means that Sindhu has won a medal in every major competition she has participated in since the 2016 Rio Olympics where she won the silver medal after losing the final against Spain’s Carolina Marin.
She followed that with silver medals at the 2017 and 2018 BWF World championship, a silver medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and also a silver medal in the 2018 Asian Games. She then went on to win the 2018 BWF World Tour Finals.
Sindhu’s fifth semi-final appearance at the Worlds also means that she continues to hold the record of bagging 50% of India’s overall medals tally from the championships, which now stands at 10. Only two of them – Prakash Padukone in 1983 and B Sai Praneeth this year – have been won by men’s shuttlers.
This will also be Sai Praneeth’s second world medal after the 2010 boy’s singles bronze at the World Junior Championship in Guadelaraja, Mexico. He becomes only the second Indian to achieve that feat after Saina Nehwal.
The 27-year-old was playing in his third straight world championship and has managed to win at least one round more than the earlier edition. In 2017, he reached the pre-quarterfinals, he went one better in 2018 when he lost to eventual world champion Kento Momota in the round of 8 and will now be facing the same opponent in the semi-finals on Saturday in Basel.
Both Momota and Sai Praneeth have not dropped a single game in the four matches they have played so far in the competion and it would be interesting to see how things pan out on Saturday.
But for now, Indian badminton can bask in the glory of two of their shuttlers coming good on a day they were facing two tough tests. By most counts, this tournament has already exceeded Indian fans’ expectations, it is now up to Sindhu and / or Sai Praneeth to make it even better by going for gold.