IBL: Youngsters to catch the eye

Awadhe Warriors player K Srikanth. (Getty Images)

Awadhe Warriors player K Srikanth. (Getty Images)

K Srikanth

With his Thailand Open GP Gold win earlier this year, Srikanth announced himself on the big stage. His performances at the IBL have cemented expectations that he is the player to watch in men’s singles.

Beginning with a win over senior compatriot Ajay Jayaram, Srikanth suffered a momentary slump in form before storming back. His destruction of Sai Praneeth at Balewadi was a stunning performance – Praneeth appeared shocked by the pace and intensity of his younger rival, and lost the match long before its conclusion.

Even in the matches Srikanth lost – to Lee Chong Wei and Vladimir Ivanov – he posed problems to both. The Guntur lad is likely to overtake many of his seniors as he surges up the rankings.

Ying Tai of Taiwan (Getty Images)

Ying Tai of Taiwan, who played for Banga Beats. (Getty Images)

Tai Tzu Ying

Got only two opportunities in the IBL, since Banga Beats had the luxury of a second women’s singles player in Carolina Marin. Tai outplayed Tine Baun in her team opener against Mumbai Masters. In the final league game, she gave Saina Nehwal plenty of trouble but went down in three.

The Chinese Taipei girl is a prodigy; she brings a classical feel to badminton with her deception and court-craft, and is destined to become a fixture in the top-five. Two Superseries wins at a young age have meant she is already in the top-ten, and she has troubled every top player. She also appears to be a happy player, smiling at her own errors, and that’s an invaluable trait in a high-pressure profession.

Hyderabad Hotshots player Ajay Jayaram. (Getty Images)

Hyderabad Hotshots player Ajay Jayaram. (Getty Images)

Ajay Jayaram

Jayaram’s biggest problem has been his lack of consistency. The Bangalore-based shuttler is an intelligent sort of player and has a nice mix of abilities, but frequently fails to execute the basics, and tends to get erratic.

Jayaram began the IBL with a characteristically erratic performance against Srikanth, but his form did not desert him. He was sublime in his straight-sets destruction of Tien Minh at Mumbai, and he did trouble Lee Chong Wei at Pune.

About the only sore point was his listless performance against Jan O Jorgensen in the final league game against Banga Beats, but the next day, he again turned on the show against Tien Minh in the semi-final against Pune Pistons.

If he can maintain that level, he can break into the top-ten. Time will tell if the IBL will mark a turning point in his self-confidence.

Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand

Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand and Hyderabad Hotshots. (Getty Images)

Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk

Tanongsak has been around for a while, but he has always been in the shadow of his more accomplished men’s singles compatriot Boonsak Ponsana. Tanongsak has displayed indifferent form over the last few years, but things turned around suddenly from late last year.

The left-handed Thai was the runner-up at the Korea Open GP Gold in December 2012, following that up with another final appearance at the Syed Modi Memorial the following fortnight. A few months later came his best performance – Tanongsak surged into the semi-finals of the All England.

Tanongsak is the reason, along with Saina Nehwal, for Hyderabad Hotshots’ entry into the final – he won each of his five matches, beating players like P Kashyap, Marc Zwiebler, Sourabh Verma, Sai Praneeth and Guru Sai Dutt.

Pune Pistons' Ashwini Ponnappa. (Getty Images)

Pune Pistons’ Ashwini Ponnappa. (Getty Images)

Ashwini Ponnappa

If Pune Pistons made the semi-finals of the IBL, it was in large measure due to the solidity of the Joachim Fischer-Ashwini Ponnappa combination. Ashwini is well known for her hard hitting, but the Bangalore girl has also developed in other departments.

Against Pradnya Gadre and Shem Goh, for instance, Ashwini was all over the net, using the hairpin shot and the tap effectively, and outplayed her opposite number Gadre. Ashwini’s smash is a potent weapon, and is crucial in mixed doubles, for it gives the combination an edge. Her defence has also improved remarkably – with a good partner, she can aim for the biggest prizes in world badminton.

Akshay Dewalkar of Banga Beats. (Getty Images)

Akshay Dewalkar of Banga Beats. (Getty Images)

Akshay Dewalkar

Dewalkar has had an unremarkable time on the international circuit partnering Pranaav Chopra in men’s doubles and Pradnya Gadre in the mixed. There have been occasions, however, when Chopra and Dewalkar have sparkled – such as at Hong Kong last year when they took a game off world champions Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, or at the China Open, where they lost the first game 27-25 to the exciting Liu Xiaolong/Qiu Zihan.

Dewalkar partnered Carsten Mogensen for Banga Beats, and the combination matured over the fortnight. The best performance came at the very end, when Dewalkar and Mogensen left Malaysian combination Lim Khim Wah/Shem Goh lost for ideas in a 15-21 21-15 11-1 rout. Dewalkar was at his best in this game, returning sure-shot winners from Lim and Shem, anticipating brilliantly at the net and firing winners at will. The IBL could well be the starting point of a new phase in his career.

Awadhe Warriors player PV Sindhu. (Getty Images)

Awadhe Warriors player PV Sindhu. (Getty Images)

PV Sindhu

Sindhu started off erratically against Saina and Carolina Marin, but pulled herself up in time and inspired her team Awadhe Warriors into the final. Sindhu possesses a game rarely seen in Indian women’s singles, for she derives her advantage from her lanky frame and a sufficient variety and power in shot-making.

With wins over the likes of Juliane Schenk and Tine Baun, Sindhu has shown consistency under pressure. Her victories over top Chinese players like Li Xuerui and Wang Yihan mark her out as a prodigal talent and among those likely to challenge for the biggest prizes in the year ahead.

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Edited by Staff Editor