Indian badminton queens PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have kept the Indian flag flying high with their stupendous performances over the last one and half decades, but who are the upcoming Indian badminton players who carry their legacy forward?
The duo of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal achieved almost everything, including Olympic and World Championship medals in their respective careers. While reigning world champion PV Sindhu is still going strong, Saina Nehwal is in the twilight years of her glorious journey.
However, the question in the minds of every Indian badminton fan is who will replace them?
Rio Olympics silver medallist PV Sindhu, who had reached a career-best world ranking of 2, is currently world No. 7, while London Olympics bronze medal winner Saina Nehwal had reached the top of the world rankings in 2015, before slipping to world No. 19 now.
Experts believe that it is going to be difficult for other Indian girls to match PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, but there are at least five young Indian shuttlers who can carry forward the good work in the years to come.
Assam's Ashmita Chaliha, Aakarshi Kashyap from Chhattisgarh, Telangana's Gayatri Gopichand, and Maharashtra’s Malvika Bansod and Mugdha Agrey, have it in them to keep the Indian flag fluttering high on the international circuit.
They have the potential to carve a niche for themselves if they keep their focus and keep on improving in the years to come. Ashmita Chaliha has been doing exceedingly well with her limited exposure.
5) Ashmita Chaliha
21-year-old Ashmita Chaliha looks the most promising of the lot. The energetic southpaw packs a lot of punches and she is a livewire on the court.
The way she fought against PV Sindhu in the women’s singles semifinal of the last Senior National Badminton Championship at Guwahati gave enough indication that she has that positive attitude which separates winners from others.
Ashmita Chaliha, who is world No. 87, has already won two BWF titles and has emerged as the champion at the South Asian Games in Nepal in 2019.
The five-foot-six-inch tall shuttler was part of the national junior team that competed at the 2017 World and Asian Junior Championships. She was selected to be part of the Indian team for the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
Born and brought up in Guwahati, Ashmita Chaliha won her maiden senior international title at the 2018 Dubai International Challenge in the women’s singles event.
Winner of a couple of All India senior ranking badminton tournaments, Ashmita Chaliha has been training hard at the Assam Badminton Academy under Indonesian coach Edwin Iriawan, who was the coach of the Indian team when Saina Nehwal won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
4) Aakarshi Kashyap
Aakarshi Kashyap has held the No. 1 spot in the Badminton Association of India rankings for the last couple of years. The diminutive girl from Chhattisgarh has reached numero uno on the rankings thanks to her outstanding performance in the last few years. She is a force to reckon with as far as domestic badminton is concerned.
The biggest challenge before Aakarshi Kashyap is to carry that domestic success to the international level too.
Last year, Aakarshi Kashyap grabbed her maiden BWF women’s singles title when she triumphed at the Kenya International tournament. The nineteen-year-old also finished runner-up at Uganda International (2020) and Bulgarian International (2018).
The teenager was selected to be part of the Indian team at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. She was part of the national women’s squad that won the gold medal in the 2019 South Asian Games. After reaching a career-best world ranking of 104, Aakarshi Kashyap has now slipped slightly to 115.
3) Malvika Bansod
Most players struggle when they graduate to the senior level from the juniors. However, Malvika Bansod was a rare exception. After dominating the junior section, Malvika Bansod had a dream start to her senior international career, as she launched herself in style with twin titles.
When Malvika Bansod was barely 18, she won the Maldives International Future Series on her senior debut in 2019, before pocketing the Annapurna Post International Series in Nepal. The left-handed shuttler also claimed bronze at the Bahrain International Series in October 2019.
The Nagpur-based teenager also reached the quarter-finals at the India International Challenge. With her performance in these four international tournaments in just two months, she managed to break into the world’s top 200 in a flash.
Malvika Bansod, who has been training under chief Indian junior national coach Sanjay Mishra at Raipur since 2019, had also represented India at the World Junior Championship in Canada.
In December 2018, she was the winner at the South Asian Regional Under-21 Championship in Kathmandu, both in individual and team events. In the singles final, Malvika Bansod edged out her Indian counterpart Purva Barve.
She recently reached the quarterfinals at the Austrian Open before going down fighting against the top seed. Malvika Bansod is ranked 139 in the world, but it is only a matter of time before she breaks into the world’s top-100 and justifies her tag as an upcoming indian badminton star.
2) Gayatri Gopichand
Gayatri Gopichand has been making slow and steady progress. The youngest of the five, 18-year-old Gayatri has displayed glimpses of her immense talent on numerous occasions and is widely touted as an upcoming Indian badminton star.
Many believe she is destined to reach the top as the sport runs in her blood. The daughter of legendary Pullela Gopichand and former international star PVV Lakshmi, Gayatri has already made a name for herself and created her own identity.
The talented teenager was part of the national team that clinched the women’s team gold medal at the 2019 South Asian Games.
She was quite close to winning two international titles, but lost narrowly in the finals. In the South Asian Games summit clash in 2019, Gayatri was edged past by Ashmita Chaliha 18-21, 23-25, while in the same year, Gayatri’s giant strides were halted by Malvika Bansod in the Nepal International final.
Gayatri achieved her major landmark when she was selected to be part of the Indian squad at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia when she was barely 15. Gayatri, whose career-best was 200, is ranked 213 in the world after playing just seven tournaments in the senior section.
Gayatri has a balanced game and a cool head on her shoulders. If she develops more strength, she could develop into a formidable player on the international circuit.
1) Mugdha Agrey
Mugdha Agrey is silently working her way towards the top and has earned a reputation for being an upcoming Indian badminton star. The 22-year-old right-handed shuttler has maintained a world ranking in the top 100 for the last three years. She was part of the Pune 7 Aces team in the Premier Badminton League last year.
Mugdha Agrey, who has been training under coach Jibi Verghese for more than six years in Nagpur now, concentrates more on playing international tournaments rather than playing on the domestic circuit.
The tall shuttler is the third Indian player in the BWF world rankings after PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal in the last three seasons. After reaching a career-best world ranking of 59 in November, 2019, she has now slipped to world No. 93 in women’s singles.
She was runner-up at the 2019 JE Wilson International Series in Ghana as well as the Lagos International Series in Nigeria. She also won the women’s singles title in the All India Senior Ranking Badminton tournament at Guntur.