The Asian junior badminton championships in Gimcheon, South Korea, is almost over. The open event winners will be known today, and with India’s PV Sindhu in the women’s singles final, India is on the verge of creating history. No Indian in recent times – not even Saina Nehwal — has won a gold medal in the Asian Junior event. Sameer Verma came close last year, but he lost in the final to Zulfadli Zulkiffli of Malaysia. (The lone Indian winner of a comparable event was Gautam Thakkar, at the 1965 Asian Junior Championships.)
There are other reasons this Asian event (known formally as the Badminton Asia Youth U-19 Championships) are interesting: China does not figure in either of the two singles finals. They have one team each in the mixed doubles and women’s doubles finals, which might disappoint them. In fact, in the mixed team event final – an event it has excelled in ever since its introduction in 2006 – it was blanked 0-3 by the Japanese. The Chinese have figured in all the finals since 2007, winning three of the six finals. The loss might be a temporary blip, but it also means that, if the Japanese groom their youngsters well, this generation of youngsters might make the senior team a force to reckon with. The emergence of India and Japan is an encouraging sign for world badminton, and one hopes this generation of players will excel on the senior circuit as well.
Both Sindhu and Sameer have had a brilliant tournament. They were responsible for denying China a shot at gold in the singles events, for both took down Chinese opponents. In a massive draw of 128, Sameer progressed to the semifinals, beating China’s Guo Kai in the fourth round and Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long in the quarterfinals, before falling to third seed Momota Kento of Japan in three games.
Sindhu, meanwhile, has reaffirmed her status as perhaps the most exciting junior player in the world. The top seed dispatched defending champion Sun Yu of China in the quarterfinals and the emerging Thai player Busanan in the semifinals. She takes on Okuhara Nozomi in the final later today, and if she can put it across the Japanese girl, she will have gone where only one Indian has gone before her.