Analysing the growth in Indian badminton from London 2012 to Rio 2016
It was a pleasant evening for many fans back in India, who were glued to the television as Saina Nehwal began her Bronze medal match against Wang Xin of China. After the opening few points, a few heads at the venue as well as at homes dropped.
However, an unexpected lifeline arrived for the Indian at the 20-15 mark, when her opponent suffered an injury to her knee, leading to a halt in proceedings.
After play resumed, Saina took control, winning three straight points to narrow the gap down. However, it didn't prove to be enough as Wang clinched the solitary point that she needed to take the game 21-18.
She trailed 0-1 in the second game, but that’s when the Chinese player suffered yet another blow to her knee and this time couldn’t get back up and resume the second game, leading to Saina win India’s maiden Olympic medal in badminton.
While the manner in which she won the medal may not have been one of happiness, it certainly doesn’t take away the magnitude of the achievement.
Ever since the sports was first introduced in the Summer Games in the 1992 edition, staged in Barcelona, India’s exploits were, poor to say the least, until Saina became the first Women's Singles player to reach the quarterfinals of the competition.
But it was really the bronze victory from the 26-year-old, that put the Indian badminton scene on the world map and provided a new goal for many an aspiring shuttler to achieve.
Newer stars emerge following the win
It is said following the conclusion of one major event, one needs to start preparing for the next one immediately, by providing opportunities to newer players to learn and improve over the course of time, the next event comes by.
While Saina continued to participate and excel in competitions , a new player in the Women’s Singles by the name of Pusarala Venkata Sindhu, who had shown glimpses of her potential at the end of 2012, when she reached the finals of the Syed Modi Grand Prix and finished the year as World No. 15.
However, she firmly announced herself on the world stage at the World Championships in Copenhagen when she defeated reigning champion Wang Yihan in the quarters and beat her fellow countrywomen Wang Shixian to become India’s first Women’s World Championships medallist.
2014 proved to be a decisive 12 months for Indian badminton. While Saina’s form dipped, Sindhu’s career gathered significant momentum. The 18-year-old won her second consecutive World Championships medal, in addition to reaching the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The signs, that a new champion was on the horizon was there for all to see, but the question on everybody’s minds was: Will she sustain the tide and remain afloat?
2015, then was the year when one would know about that.
In order to attain a second wind to her career, Saina decided to change coaches and moved on Pullela Gopichand to Vimal Kumar. That call seemed to have paid dividends when the Indian entered the finals of the All England Championships, won the India Super Series and then scaled the top of the World Rankings, thereby reintroducing herself as one of the elite players on the circuit.She
Sindhu, on the contrary, struggled for consistency, a factor that was to cause further crests and troughs in form for her during the course of the 12 months. Her inability to do well in major events meant that her rankings also a dip.
She did have a good end to 2015, finishing as runners-up at the Denmark Open Superseries Premier and then winning Macau Open.
Now in about 40 days time both Saina and Sindhu are set to carry the Indian hopes in the Rio Olympics and hopes are pinned on either of the two or both to bring a second Olympic medal.
In these 4 years, there have been few other players as well but haven’t set the court on fire. The likes of PC Thulasi, Ruthvika Shivani Gadde etc have also emerged but have not been able to deliver the goods on the international circuit.