If one had predicted that the men’s singles section would overshadow the sheer brilliance of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu in 2017, you wouldn’t buy that for sure. But what transpired in these 12 months was nothing but a treat to watch as the men’s singles shuttlers took the world by storm.
Kidambi Srikanth’s relentless attack, B Sai Praneeth’s incredible run, and HS Prannoy’s giant-killing spree brought opponents to their knees as they dominated the major part of the season with elan.
It is this domination that led to badminton becoming one of the most talked about and one of the most followed sport in the country. “It (badminton) definitely credits its way to it. The performances have been great and also looking at the way the sport has grown, badminton is the second largest sport in the country,” national coach Pullela Gopichand had told Firstpost during the auction of the Premier Badminton League in November.
The Indian boys made an instant impact wherever they competed, be it the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Gold or Superseries events. “I would give 10 out of 10,” Praneeth told Firstpost at the sidelines of GoSports Foundation Athletes' Conclave event in Bengaluru. “Out of the 12 Superseries events, we have managed to get a result on nine occasions. We also have two World Championships medals,” he added.
After returning from injury, Sameer Verma started the year by winning the Syed Modi International Series, where he defeated Praneeth. Surprisingly, the world witnessed a rejuvenated Praneeth thereafter as the 24-year-old shuttler went on to clinch his maiden Superseries title at the Singapore Open, beating compatriot Kidambi Srikanth, followed by a gold medal at the Thailand GPG.
The loss against Praneeth in Singapore was not very damaging as it gave Srikanth the chance to reinvent himself and set the court alight once again. The 24-year-old had struggled with indifferent form and injuries but just a fortnight after Praneeth claimed gold in Thailand, it was time for Srikanth to prove his worth.
Srikanth triumphed in Indonesia and then reigned supreme in Australia in the following week. In a space of a fortnight, the Guntur lad showed how dangerous his attacking prowess could be. “Srikanth is the fittest of the lot. If you look at the way he has won back-to-back titles, it tells you how his confidence level went high with every tournament,” explained Praneeth.
Srikanth’s lethal attack from the backcourt reminded many of the legendary Peter Gade as he continued to rumble in the men’s singles discipline with class. “Srikanth is unique in a lot of ways as much and his game is a lot more unorthodox. The style of play is in a way similar to what Peter Gade is and the movement is also something that reminds me of Gade,” said Gopichand, who defeated the Dane en route the All England crown in 2001.
And again. In a space of two weeks, Srikanth breached the impenetrable defences of his opponents to become Denmark Open and French Open champion. However, there were a few shortcomings that he had to worry about but Gopichand was proud of his ward’s approach.
"I think he could definitely improve more as he is someone who has shown great temperament to win so many matches this year. I would like him to be consistent and shine at the biggest of the tournaments. I know he will," Gopichand said.
While Srikanth was flooring opponents at will, Prannoy was busy upsetting higher-ranked shuttlers at major tournaments, and since then he has been called as the ‘giant-killer’. The way Prannoy downed Olympic medallists Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long in Indonesia was poetry in motion. A few months later, the Kannur-born shuttler would once again torment Lee, this time in Denmark that made the route easier for Srikanth to lift the coveted title.
The competitive nature
Week 39 saw five Indian men’s singles shuttlers storm into the top 20 of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings for the first time. Srikanth, Prannoy, Praneeth, Verma and Ajay Jayaram had flourished on the international and domestic platforms. “This is one step forward. I would love to have more Indians in the top bracket.,” Gopichand said. The Indian men's circuit train at the SAI Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad and with so many talented shuttlers, the level of competition has gone up ever since. "Everybody has been training the same way as they have since the past four to five years, but the competition in training itself is the reason behind the recent surge. That (competition) gets the improvement out of each one of us. At the start of the year, I was playing well, Sameer (Verma) was playing well. That trend has been going on. The healthy competition has helped all of us push ourselves to the limit," explained Prannoy.
It's official today and 5 Indian Men Singles players are in top 20 of the world. It's just the beginning and lots more to achieve. pic.twitter.com/NZdeLZZbNv — Kidambi Srikanth (@srikidambi) September 28, 2017
The healthy competition within has helped the shuttlers improve their quality as each tournament passed by. “When we are on the court, we definitely have to fight it out for that one hour but outside the court, we are friends. Practicing together gives us a lot of confidence since we are all top players. Competing amongst us in the academy is challenging at times,” said Praneeth.
Much of the credit goes to Indonesian coach Handoyo who joined the coaching staff in 2016 with an aim to sharpen the singles circuit. The renowned coach, who guided Taufik Hidayat to an Olympic gold, sat down with Gopichand and analysed what went wrong with the shuttlers. Handoyo wasted no time to notice that Indian players had a habit of running out of fuel in a three-game encounter.
"We couldn't match up to how others approached the deciding game. His training methods have helped us on the endurance front where we can play three games hassle-free,” said Sameer Verma.
There is no doubt that the boys exceeded expectations this year but unfortunately, performances at the major tournaments like the World Championships, Olympic Games have been average. With the Commonwealth and Asian Games on the horizon, the men's singles circuit has a chance to add elusive medals to their trophy cabinet and set a benchmark for up-and-coming shuttlers.
"It’s not only about winning medals but the consistency we have maintained throughout the season that sets us apart," concluded Praneeth.
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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2018 21:29:31 IST