2017: Watershed year for Indian badminton, players extend nation's status
New Delhi: Indian badminton in 2017 continued to move northwards, dishing out one stunning performance after another, especially with the men's shuttlers earning respect on the global stage.
While P.V. Sindhu extended her status as India's leading shuttler, the likes of Kidambi Srikanth, H.S. Prannoy and B. Sai Praneeth left their mark on the circuit, even as Saina Nehwal, now a veteran, battled her way to a World Championship bronze.
Saina, 27, struggled with her consistency and fitness but the 2012 London Olympic bronze medallist fought against time and went on to clinch the BWF World Championship bronze medal along with the Malaysia Masters, proving her doubters wrong and ending debates on her future.
Recuperating from her career-threatening knee ligament surgery after the 2016 Rio Games, Saina showed signs of improvement at the Premier Badminton League (PBL), which the Sindhu-led Chennai Smashers won in January.
Though the Indian pair failed to shine at the All England Superseries Champonships, the success for Indian badminton began at the home Superseries in April.
After losing the summit clash to Spanish star Carolina Marin in the Rio Olympics in August, the duo was again pitted against each other in the middle and this time it was the Indian player who proved superior.
After that, many experts claimed that these performances by the Indians might revolutionalise the game.
This was followed by Srikanth and Sai Praneeth setting up the first-ever all-Indian final in the Singapore Open Superseries, gaining more eyeballs for the sport. Sai Praneeth clinched the title and the standard and popularity of the sport increased manifold.
He then went on to clinch the Thailand Open Superseries, which was the crowning glory for men's badminton in India.
The Indian juggernaut on the global stage continued, with player after player stealing the limelight.
Just after Sai Praneeth won the Thailand Open Superseries title, Srikanth began his amazing run in the Superseries circuit. In June, the Guntur shuttler consecutively pocketed the Indonesia Open and the Australian Open and then lifted the Denmark and French titles in October.
With this, he also became the first Indian shuttler to win four Superseries titles in a calendar year.
Apart from Srikanth and Sai Praneeth, Prannoy also turned heads by breaking into the top 10 of the BWF rankings. He also lived up to his giant killer tag as he overpowered Lee Chong Wei, Chen Long and Lin Dan, badminton's version of the Big 3 of tennis.
The spotlight then again turned on Sindhu, who played a marathon match of one hour and 50 minutes against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara in the World Championships final, albeit going down narrowly. Even so, the high standard and the excellence of her game won the hearts of the badminton community. Both Sindhu and Saina ensured that India bagged two medals for the first time at the badminton worlds.
Cut to the last tournament of the year -- the Dubai Superseries Finals -- which saw Sindhu suffering another heartbreaking loss in the final, this time against another Japanese, Akane Yamaguchi.
But this is just the beginning of a glorious era of Indian badminton with all the singles players in their early 20s and most likely to improve and further flourish in the future.