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PARTAB RAMCHAND | 5 NOVEMBER, 2017

Indian Male Badminton Players Finally Emerge From Saina-Sindhu Shadow

Partab Ramchand on the Indian men badminton players making the news.


After the women it is the turn of the men who are making their presence felt around the international circuit in no uncertain terms.

For long in the shadow of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu the Indian men badminton players are now making waves. Led by Kidambi Srikanth who has risen to world No 2 the men’s contingent at the various Super Series competitions have shown that they can hold their own against higher ranked players from superpower countries and the result has been the best phase in the history of Indian badminton.

Yes, there was one Prakash Padukone in the 80s and one Pullela Gopichand almost 20 years later but never before has a five man army from India descended on the international badminton scene so successfully. Epitomizing this has been the success story of Srikanth who has just won back to back Super Series titles with the Denmark Open and the French Open.

Astonishingly it is the second time this year that the 25-year -old from Hyderabad has performed this feat. In June he had won consecutive Super Series titles at the Indonesian Open and the Australian Open. With four titles for the year he has surpassed the record of Nehwal who was the first Indian to win three Super Series titles in 2010.

The depth in Indian badminton is underlined by the fact that in June there were three players in the top 15. By September there were five in the top 20 with HS Prannoy, Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma and Ajay Jayaram joining Srikanth in the top rung. As Jayaram put it ``initially it used to be just Parupalli Kashyap and I battling it out in the men’s singles. Now the scenario has changed and there is that belief amongst us that we are among the best out there.’’

On sheer results it is difficult to argue with that observation. Over the last few years there has been an upsurge in the fortunes but these were flashes. Srikanth’s straight set win over Lin Dang on his way to winning the China Open in 2014, Sai Praneeth getting the better of Taufik Hidayat the same year, Prannoy beating the then world No 2 Jan Jorgensen in 2015 and Sameer Verma pulling off the same feat the following year were clear signs of the progress being made by Indian players on the international circuit. Ajay Jayaram also made it to a Super Series final in 2015.

This year however the Indians have really got their act together and have made a tremendous impact. Sameer set the ball rolling in January with the gold medal at the Syed Modi international Grand Prix event beating Sai for the title. Sai won the Singapore Open beating Srikanth and then added the Thailand Open gold for good measure. Prannoy’s US Open title came at the expense of Kashyap. As Srikanth has observed ``there are at least four of us competing for the title in a tournament. Despite the fact that sometimes we end up running into each other as a result the depth that we enjoy now is wonderful.’’

In the not too distant past players from three or four countries called the shots around the international circuit. But as Srikanth says the field is more open now. Players from other countries have caught up and leading the charge is the Indian contingent. .Champions like Lee Chong, Wei,Lin Dan and Chen Long cannot be written off but they have to be on their toes as the field is much more competitive.

Srikanth is certainly the toast of the nation now and he attributes his success to his hard training and being mentally tough. He is just a step away from the pedestal but he has no illusions of being No 1. ”I think there is a lot of difference between me and Viktor (Axelsen, the world No 1) so I don’t think I will be No 1.’’ Yes it remains a goal but he is not losing any sleep over it. “I don’t want to push myself too much. I just want to enjoy playing,’’ says Srikanth.

Now what was that again about the well known adage that enthusiasm is the mother of success?

Yes, the really big events – the World championships, the all England, the Olympics - has so far eluded Srikanth. But the manner in which he is rapidly climbing up the ladder it would appear that even these titles are not beyond him. Srikanth is a great fan of Roger Federer. Like the Swiss legend he believes in keeping his emotions under control, stay calm and be focused on the goal. At the moment the focus is on the China Open and the Hong Kong Open later this month and then of course the World Super Series final in Dubai. Winning that would be the icing on the cake but his immediate assignment is the senior nationals which commenced at Napgur on Thursday. For Srikanth it is obviously one step at a time.
 

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