As 2019 comes to an end, in this series we take a look at the significant news events in different sporting disciplines in the past 12 months.
A historic gold medal at the world championships more than made up for PV Sindhu’s otherwise ordinary run in the BWF circuit, while teenager Lakshya Sen proved that men’s singles has a star in waiting in what was a mixed year for Indian badminton.
The world championship in Switzerland, in fact, was a big one for India in more than one way as B Sai Praneeth emulated Prakash Padukone by winning a men’s singles bronze, ending a 36-year wait.
India also enjoyed success in the doubles circuit with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty leaving many of their illustrious seniors behind by becoming the first Indian men’s pair to win a Super 500 title at Thailand Open and then reaching the French Open Super 750 final.
After two silver and two bronze medals, Sindhu finally clinched India’s first World Championships gold in the sport and did so in sensational fashion, but spent rest of the year struggling for form.
Sindhu looked inconsistent throughout the year but managed to turn things around under new Korean coach Kim Ji Hyun with a runners-up finish at Indonesia Open. She carried that form in Basel and dominated the field before outplaying Nozomi Okuhara in the final.
The title triumph took her World Championships medals tally to five and also made her only the second women’s singles player after former Olympic and world champion Zhang Ning of China to achieve the milestone.
But her form dipped again after that as she struggled to make it to the business end of any other tournament and also fell short of defending her title at the year-end World Tour Finals.
Apart from Sindhu’s World Championships high, Saina Nehwal bagged the Indonesia Masters crown before being bogged down by injuries and pancreatitis.
Srikanth, Prannoy struggled
In men’s circuit, Sai Praneeth’s Worlds medal, a final appearance at Swiss Open and a few quarter and semi-final finishes saw him end the season as the best-placed Indian at world No.11.
His contemporary Kidambi Srikanth, who had won four titles in 2017 and grabbed the world No.1 status for a brief while in 2018, struggled to get back to his all-conquering best. He reached just one final at the India Open before a knee injury affected his season as the 26-year-old slumped to a string of uncharacteristic defeats and tumbled out of the top 10 and finished the year in 12th spot.
HS Prannoy also continued to find the going tough. A bout of dengue in September further pegged him back as he finished the season 26th in world rankings.
Sourabh Verma, meanwhile, rediscovered himself and claimed super 100 titles at Vietnam and Hyderabad besides entering the Syed Modi International Super 300 final.
Parupalli Kashyap showed glimpses of his best and he briefly reentered the top 25 in the world rankings and went deep in a few tournaments.
Rise of Sen
While the seniors struggled, Lakshya grabbed headlines with his memorable run in the senior circuit.
Starting the season at world rank 109 in January, Lakshya moved to 76 after a final finish at Polish Open. He then claimed the Belgian International in September before winning the Dutch Open Super 100 and SaarLorLux Super 100 in October.
He went on to claim the Scottish Open crown in November before ending the year with his fifth title at Bangladesh International Challenge, which saw him surge up to the 32nd spot in the world.
In doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy had a forgettable year as they made 13 first-round exit and were ousted from second round three times.
The year also saw two foreign coaches – Malaysia’s Tan Kim Her and Korea’s Kim Ju Hyun – depart, prompting chief national coach Pullela Gopichand to reiterate the need for having many more Indian coaches introduced into the system.
“We have had some not so good results so it is obvious that we need to buck up and get better,” Gopichand recently said at the launch of Badminton Gurukul in Mumbai.
“It’s just ending up they are playing tournaments after tournaments so there has hardly been any time for preparation. Having said that, I think sooner or later we have to ensure that people get back on track and start preparing,” the 46-year-old added.
With the Olympic qualification period for Tokyo 2020 on till April next year, several Indians, especially in men’s singles, have a chance to make the final cut.
Less than seven months away from the grand event, Gopichand has the challenging task of once again ensuring that his wards are in best shape at Tokyo 2020, where India would look to add to their medals tally in the quadrennial event. Badminton, after all, has been of India’s most rewarding events at the international arena and all eyes will once again be on the shuttling contingent in the year ahead.
And despite the mixed results overall, 2019 will forever be special for Indian badminton thanks to Sindhu’s historic gold in Basel.
(With PTI inputs)