Suddenly there are cracks in the wall. It was the best year for Indian badminton last year, from January to about September. We won the Thomas cup in style, demolished every opposition in the CWG and most of our players reached high rankings at the world level. There were Indian players doing well all over.
But suddenly there are cracks all over the wall. Barring the dynamic duo of Saisatwik Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty no other shuttler is making waves. So much so that not one Indian made it to the quarter-finals of the Indian Open in Delhi. Upgraded to BWF super 750 with a prize money chest of, 900000, the event saw almost all top-ranked players participating, which was expected. But playing at home one expected team India to give a scintillating performance. That did not happen.
Though we had HS Prannoy reaching the quarterfinals and Saisatwik/Chirag Shetty reaching the semifinals of the Malaysian Open, by and large rest of the Indians fell by the wayside. This was the beginning of the 2023 season. At the India Open we had the unfortunate clash of Lakshya and Prannoy in the first round, just like the Malaysian open. Prannoy had prevailed there over the 22-year-old Sen. At home Sen took sweet revenge and defeated the veteran Indian star, taking 42 minutes for the 21-15/21-14 demolition job. A lot is riding on. The shoulders of this young man. He did extremely well last year gatecrashing in the top ten world rankings and was one of the only players to defeat the reigning world and Olympic champion, the unstoppable Viktor Axelson whom Sen beat in a Titanic tussle at the German open. But within a week, Axelson hammered Sen in the finals of the All-England. In the India Open, Lakshya playing Rasmus Gemke in the pre-quarterfinals lost to the Dane, who won 21-16, 15-21, 18-21. This was a match the Indians should’ve won. The sense of purpose that was so evident and so apparent in his demeanour when he entered the court against Prannoy, was missing.
Young Sen must show more consistency if he wants to be considered a top-class player. His coach Vimal Kumar however feels that Sen is doing alright. ” Lakshya can take on any opponent today, there is no doubt. As far as fitness or match ready ness is concerned he is as good as anybody else. He has had a good break and is looking forward to the new season. The problem that he has been suffering is septoplasty which is basically a major breathing problem because the bones inside the nose are crooked and so is the cartilage.” So Lakshya is not able to push himself to. limits is what Vimal, Director and chief coach at the Padukone is hinting at.
To straighten this, a surgical procedure is required called septoplasty. He had the operation in the end of September last year and is recovering from that surgery. But the player must get over the septoplasty as early as he can otherwise he may just be left out in the race for stardom.
Prannoy is in good form. He is a steady, calm player with perhaps the most devastating smash in the business. He too has to show more consistency if he is to qualify for the Paris Olympics of 2024. He just could not get his game going at Delhi as Lakshya, very cunningly deprived him of the space in which Prannoy uncoils to hit the scorchers. So he did not get into any rhythm.
Kidambi Srikant was silenced by the omnipotent Viktor Axelson in the very first round. The Dane was down 6-14 in the second game but he did not let this bother him. He just got into his groove and coolly, calmly, like a real professional got one point after another to draw abreast at 17 and then on to win 21-19, in the second game.
The Legendary Dane started off the year where he had left last year. On a winning streak that smells of utter domination. Simply put in enthralling terms, he comes, he sees, and he conquers. The problem that Indian badminton is facing now and it has to be treated as soon as possible is that with Prannoy and Kidambi now almost 31/32 years of age are not going to get any Better. And the assembly line of world-class players that Gopichand produced, may soon go dry.
But even Gods have off days because this seemingly invincible gladiator in the finals lost out to the Thai shuttler, Vidassarn In a lovely match, brilliant in many ways, Vidassarn was hugely successful as he played tactics which did not allow Axelson to use deep-angled half smashes and therefore fast movement to Marshall the net.
Lakshya Sen is the only one from the younger generation who looks world-class, indeed is world-class. The closest, in world rankings Manjunath Mithun at 37 and Kiran George at 43 have yet to prove themselves.
The scene, therefore, is not very encouraging. In women singles, it is still worse. Though the golden girl of yester years Saina Nehwal was happy at her victory over Mia of Denmark. But in 2nd round the current Olympic champion Chen YunFei did not break any sweat in demolishing the former queen 21-9/21-12. The writing on the wall should be clear to Saina that her time seems to be over. Last year she lost in the first round of 6 tournaments. It is difficult to battle Father Time.
PV Sindhu was nursing one injury after another in the second half of last year. She did not play any event till the Malaysian open last week, where Spain’s Carolina Marin, former twice world champion and winner of the Rio game’s, came back to competitive Badminton, 14 months after a knee injury which had laid her low, promptly dispatched off Sindu in the first round, in an hour-long battle.
In the India Open Sindhu was floored by the tiny Thailander, Supanida Katethon, who had defeated Sindhu last year as well in the first round. Supanida won the battle 21-14/22-20
For some reason, Sindhu is opting to play long defensive rallies, which is a total anathema to her natural style of attack, attack and attack. The long legs are meant to trapeze around the court, effortlessly and the height of,5/11 which is her height, is to catch the bird early and hammer it down with surgical precision. Remember that gleeful shriek of Sindhu after she used to carve out a point with her thunderbolts, a couple of seasons back.
Well, that is missing now.
That self-belief is gone. She better get it back otherwise she may well be relegated to sit with the backbenchers.
Aakarshi Kashyap and Malvika Bansod have to really work on stamina and strength to get to top 20 ranks where the ball game is highly different and professional.
Same for our young women doubles duo of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand. They have a long way to go, to be counted among the heavy weights in the event. In the India Open they brushed aside Margot and Anne Tran of France in a tough three-setter. But against seeded Zhang shu and Zheng the Indian pair was brushed aside by the Chinese 9-21/16-21. Again it is a problem of lack of consistency.
The only Indians on the circuit playing well are the dynamic duo of Saisatwik and Chirag Shetty in men’s doubles.
The fifth seeds reached the semifinals of the Malaysian Open and at the India Open as well, where an unfortunate groin pull forced the Indians to withdraw. They are going from strength to strength and others should follow their dedication and hunger for success.
The BAI and its coaches have some hard work to do if they want to sustain the great Thomas cup and CWG wins. There is no reason why we can’t rise up again and ensure the world, that we are a global power in this sport.
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