Are Indian badminton players choking in big tournaments?
Pullela Gopichand should be very proud of producing badminton champions like Srikanth Kidambi, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy with many more in the making. There is no doubt that Gopichand will always be remembered for his outstanding contribution to badminton in India.
Srikanth Kidambi recently became No. 1 in BWF men's singles ranking and is the first Indian male badminton player to be ranked 1st since the official computerized rankings were introduced. With 27 men and 20 women players from the country being in the top 200 of the BWF singles rankings, it seems that the sport of badminton has started to think about coming back to its home where it originated in the 19th century.
Losing early in big tournaments
In the recently concluded All England Open 2018, top Indian players like Sai Praneeth, Srikanth Kidambi and HS Prannoy lost their Round 1, Round 2 and Quarterfinal matches respectively. Apart from Sai Praneeth, the other two lost their knockout matches to lower ranked players.
In women singles, Saina Nehwal lost to the then-World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying in Round 1. In Saina's case, we can say that it was always going to be difficult against Tai at any stage of the tournament, but that's what top players strive to do i.e win against the best. It was a golden opportunity for her to get the momentum by beating the No. 1, which is required for any tournament.
We analysed the men's and the women's singles results of the 2017 Superseries tournaments and it can be clearly seen that we are losing our warriors too early in Round 1 & Round 2 (Pre-quarters). We lost 40 out of 59 players (men's and women's singles combined) before the quarter-finals. Out of the remaining 19 players, 7 moved to the top 3 in all Superseries tournaments in 2017.
Players like HS Prannoy have beaten top shuttlers of the world but have not been able to beat their own inconsistencies; they might be at the top of their game for 2 days but on the third day, they don't maintain their own standards. Similarly, other top players like Srikanth Kidambi, Sai Praneeth and PV Sindhu have lost their crucial matches in big tournaments and their ranking reflects that.
Srikanth Kidambi was No. 1 for only one week and the next two weeks saw his ranking drop to 5th. The path to No. 1 ranking is thorny but to maintain that ranking is even more treacherous.
Or are we too harsh on our players?
The competition out there is unforgiving. It is very hard to maintain the fitness levels required to be in the top 20.
We are certainly very eager to move to sports other than cricket and relish them but, as an Indian, we have very few choices. India is the powerhouse of cricket and we tend to compare other sports with the success of cricket and quickly forget that cricket has the undue economic advantage here.
We are taking baby steps in creating a diverse sports culture, starting from our school level via Khelo India initiative taken by government of India. We need to appreciate and relish their successes in tournaments, where a few years back an Indian name was difficult to spot even in the draws.