New Delhi: P V Sindhu scaled new heights but it was K Srikanth who took Indian badminton by storm with a higher title count as male shuttlers finally came out of the shadows in a season of unprecedented success for the sport.
It was a year when the national anthem played quite frequently at stadia across the globe as either Sindhu or Srikanth stood on the podium in a series of elite badminton tournaments.
If Sindhu cemented her place among the world’s very best with three titles and three silvers, Srikanth exceeded all expectations with four titles and a runners-up finish to join the big league in a truly remarkable season.
Infact, men’s players managed to outshine their women’s counterpart as B Sai Praneeth and H S Prannoy too shone through on the international stage.
Another memorable aspect of the year was the return of Saina Nehwal and hopes of resurgence in doubles.
The appointment of Indonesia’s Mulyo Handoyo, best known for coaching Taufik Hidayat, gave a massive impetus to Indian badminton, which also also saw a change of guard at the association with Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma becoming the president following the sudden demise of Dr Akhilesh Das Gupta.
Among all the postcard moments this year, Sindhu’s exhausted frame after innumerable energy-sapping matches is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon. Her triumphs were not just a reflection of talent but also the sheer determination of the 22-year-old.
The World Championship’s 110-minute epic final against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara had fans on the edge of their seats. And the summit clashes at Korea Open and the Dubai Super Series Final were as emotionally draining if not more.
Though the teh Hyderabadi had to endure three painful final losses — World Championship, Hong Kong Open and Dubai Super Series Finals –, she also enjoyed the high of clinching Super Series titles at the India Open and Korea Open, besides the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold.
On the other hand, Srikanth’s ability to peak in successive weeks twice in a year made him the first Indian to win four titles in a season, a feat only achieved by the iconic Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long.
After recovering from an ankle injury that nearly kept him out of action for four months last year, the 24-year-old from Guntur hit a purple patch in April as he reached three successive finals at Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.
He won the last two and it helped him regain his place in the top 10 and also grab the top spot in the badminton earnings chart.
His unbeaten streak, however, ended at the World Championship when he lost to South Korea’s Son Wan in the quarters but the Indian soon regained his touch, securing two wins in two weeks again at Denmark and France in October.
His envious run earned him the World No.2 position and a spot in the season-ending Dubai Finals.
However, non-stop badminton took a toll as Srikanth aggravated his leg injury during the National Championships, where he finished second to Prannoy and had to stay off the circuit for two tournaments.
While Sindhu and Srikanth dominated, Praneeth and Prannoy also made rapid strides with the former defeating Srikanth at the Singapore Open in an all-Indian final to lay claim to his maiden Super Series title. Six weeks later, Praneeth secured the Thailand Grand Prix Gold title.
Prannoy, meanwhile, notched up wins over Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei and China’s Chen Long on successive days to reach the semifinals at the Indonesia Open.
The 25-year-old later scooped the US Open Grand Prix Gold title beating P kashyap in another all-Indian finals.
He again outwitted Chong Wei at the Denmark Open and his rampaging run saw him reach a career-best ranking of World No. 10, besides becoming the costliest buy at the PBL auction in October.
The year also saw Saina returning to action to clinch the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold early in the year. She gave ample proof of her progress by bagging a bronze at the World Championship.
Saina also notched up an incredible win over Sindhu at the finals of the Senior Nationals, which saw the return of top players, following initiatives taken by Dr Sarma.
But the 27-year-old’s fitness remained a concern and she decided to reunite with her long-time mentor Gopichand after spending three years under Vimal Kumar.
The year also saw 16-year-old Lakshya Sen winning two titles at the India International Series and Eurasia Bulgarian Open before finishing runners-up at the Tata Open India International.
With his wards dishing out consistent performances, the legend of national coach Pullela Gopichand only grew but allegations of favouritism against him following his daughter Gayatri’s selection in the World Junior Championship team did raise some uncomfortable questions.