As the Fuzhou China Open 2019 wrapped up today, it's a good time to have a look back at India's performance at this Super 750 tournament. It was once again the young and spirited men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty who made it to the weekend and finished as the best-performing Indians. Their relentless aggression, unwavering determination and a sparkling chemistry continue to bring them success at such a young age.
Rankireddy is all of 19 but his power-packed smashes totally belie his age. Shetty is the senior of the two at 22 and predominantly takes charge of the net while Rankireddy controls the backcourt. Their smooth rotation and quick footwork enable them to surprise their opponents with trick shots, putting them under pressure. If there is one thing that the Indian duo has learnt so far, it is not to get intimidated by the much-fancied teams and instead consider themselves as their equal.
The belief that they belong to the big league is fetching them noteworthy wins time and again and helping them to cement their place within the world's top 10.
It was evident once again at the Fuzhou China Open where the World No. 9 pair accounted for the World No. 3 pair of Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen and World No. 6 combo of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe. The Indians' brilliant run eventually came to a screeching halt at the hands of the World No. 1s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo but the high-octane match that went 21-16, 22-20 in favour of the Indonesians will give the youngsters enough reason to feel proud of.
That they are fast learners was shown by the Indian youngsters once again. Gideon and Sukamuljo have proved to be difficult opponents time and again for Rankireddy and Shetty and had inflicted a 21-18, 21-16 defeat on them at the French Open final only last month.
Their superb fightback during the second game of their Fuzhou clash demonstrated how much willing they are to learn from their mistakes and make a permanent place in the elite bracket. Rankireddy and Shetty remained on par with the Indonesians for most of the game and even inched ahead a couple of times before going on to save a match point as well.
Their highly-improved defense also helped them win some long rallies and stay in contention. All these efforts will most definitely help them turn the tables over their formidable opponents in the near future.
However, for now, what should please Indian badminton aficionados the most is the fact that India has finally found a solution to its doubles woes. Ever since Rankireddy and Shetty appeared on the horizon, they raised hopes with their immense talent. Now, it's heartening to see that they are actually converting those priceless opportunities into big wins. Rankireddy and Shetty have actually made Indian doubles the headline-grabber, something that is unprecedented.
That doubles can actually surpass and outshine India's singles glory at a tournament was unthinkable before. Now, however, they have made us believe that it is possible to have hopes even when India's singles exponents have exited the tournament. With Rankireddy and Shetty winning the Thailand Open and making it to the final of the French Open, when all of India's singles exponents crashed out, they are turning doubles into a force to reckon with.
As much as India's doubles flourished, it, however, does not change the fact that the singles shuttlers are struggling. The fact that none of the Indians were able to reach the singles quarter-finals demands some quick introspection into what is going wrong. Sai Praneeth and Parupalli Kashyap still managed to win a round and progress to the pre-quarter-finals.
But Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu's first-round defeats are not just disappointing but they are worrying at the same time. While Nehwal lost to an opponent she met for the very first time, Sindhu succumbed to someone she had never even dropped a game to in three previous meetings.
Sindhu's inconsistency ever since she won the BWF World Championships needs to be looked into at the earliest. In five tournaments she has made the quarter-finals only once and lost five out of nine matches.
Nowhere is the Sindhu to be seen who played with such poise and conviction on her way to etching India's name in record books at Basel. Instead, nowadays she fails to read her opponents' shots and falls prey to multiple judgmental errors. The Sindhu whose speed, anticipation and clarity of thought process wowed the world at the World Championships is missing.
That needs to be rectified as early as possible. With India's doubles now looking fortified, an improved singles department can, for the first time, enable the Indian contingent to win medals in both the categories. India should make every effort to make that happen as we continue to strengthen our position as a badminton powerhouse.