The sports world’s attention on Sunday, justifiably, was on the riveting French Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Meanwhile, three less significant Indian events occurred in badminton, and while they cannot be compared with what transpired in Paris, they were healthy developments for Indian sport.
The first was well covered – Saina Nehwal’s triumph in Thailand. The 22-year-old beat Thai prodigy Ratchanok Inthanon in the final, a come-from-behind victory that served as useful preparation for the Olympics. While the Thailand Open GP Gold might not count as one of her bigger victories, it was certainly a confidence-booster.
Most of the top Chinese gave it a miss, but there was one name who could have ruined things for the Indian – their upcoming youngster Li Han. Ranked 138 in December, the little-known Chinese girl has shot up more than 100 places in the rankings within the last six months. She already has a string of big victories to her credit: even, amazingly, over compatriot Li Xuerui before the latter won her first All England title. She has already beaten several top players. Her big-name victims include: Thailand Open runner-up Ratchanok Inthanon (twice), Sayaka Sato, Cheng Shao Chieh, and world No.2 Wang Shixian. In December last year, at the prestigious Macau Open, she came through two qualifying rounds and made a spectacular run into the final, beating some established names on the way, before finally losing to top seed Shixian. The very next week, at the Korea Open GP Gold, she made another spectacular run into the final, beating players of the class of Bae Youn Joo and Li Xuerui before falling in the final.
At the Australian Open GP Gold in April, she would not be denied. She overcame a stiff field, and beat two Koreans on the way to the title – taking revenge over her Korea Open conqueror Sung Ji Hyun in the semifinals. By the look of things, it won’t be a surprise if Li Han were to surge into the top-ten in the near future.
This, then, was the girl whom Saina beat with relative ease in the second round of the Thailand Open. From then on it was pretty much cruise mode until the final. Going into the final, she had a 2-1 edge over Ratchanok, and her power and aggression made the difference against the willowy Thai girl.
The second, less significant, event was the victory of two Indian boys in an event in Indonesia. The 14-year-old duo of Vaibhav Bisne of Nagpur and Chirag Shetty of Mumbai made it a memorable Sunday by winning the Yonex-Sunrise Doubles Badminton tournament in Jakarta. The title capped their month-long Indonesian advanced training camp which was arranged by Maharashtra Badminton Association and Yonex.
In the Boys Under-15 doubles final, the unseeded pair of Bisne and Shetty overpowered Dheva Anrimusthi and Rizky Adam of Indonesia 21-13, 23-21 in 25 minutes. If Bisne and Shetty go on to do well for the country in the senior category, they will remember that it all started on a certain Sunday in June.
The third development was the successful completion of the Tamil Nadu Badminton League. Tamil Nadu is not particularly known to be a badminton-friendly state, but – thanks to a company called Game Point, in association with the state body – it played host to the country’s third IPL-modelled league. The biggest innovation the TN league came up with was to host the final in Chennai’s Express Avenue mall.
Among those who returned impressed by the league was India’s former No.1 Chetan Anand, now beginning a return from injury. “It was organized well, and it was a unique idea to hold it in a mall,” he said. “The crowd was fantastic. It was packed. The whole arena was full of people, and they were standing in the walkways and watching from the floors above as well. Generally in a tournament you don’t get too many people. The ones that come are those who know the players. People don’t take time off to see badminton. But here all the shoppers were watching badminton.”
The successful execution of the idea bodes well for Indian badminton and points to a new direction in the conduct of events. Indian badminton might have just turned a corner on Sunday.