The meteoric rise of Indian badminton once again came to the fore in no uncertain terms last week when P V Sindhu became the first Indian woman to win a singles medal at the World Badminton Championship. Badminton, not so long back, was like any other sporting discipline trying to find its foothold in a land obsessed with cricket.
Though the game had its share of highs when Prakash Padukone won bronze in 1983 world championship or the triumph of Pullela Gopichand at 2001 All England Open, it wasn’t until five years later that badminton truly came of age with Saina Nehwal becoming the first Indian woman to win a four-star tournament – the Philippines Open.
Saina’s subsequent successes almost single-handedly transformed the popular game into a fashionable sport which now even lures sponsors to employ strategies to promote badminton with dollops of glitz and glamour thrown in. Daughter of Hyderabad-based P V Ramana and P Vijaya, both former national level spikers, Sindhu opted for badminton over volleyball after being inspired by Gopichand. Like Saina, Sindhu too trains at Hyderabad’s Gopichand Badminton Academy and is supported by Olympic Gold Quest, a not-for-profit foundation that identifies and supports Indian athletes.
After a string of good performances at the junior level, Sindhu appeared on the global scene in 2012 when she stunned London Olympics gold medallist Li Xuerui of China in the quarterfinal of China Masters before winning her maiden Grand Prix gold in 2013 Malaysia Open. Known for her indomitable spirit and electric court coverage, thanks to her lanky 5’-6” frame, Sindhu stole the show in the Guangzhou world championship by scripting stunning back-to-back victories over two former world number one players, reigning champion Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian, to successfully break the Chinese bastion, a trend made possible by her predecessor Saina.
Though her dream run was halted by eventual champion Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand, Sindhu’s bronze medal feat affirmed that India’s rise in badminton isn’t a one-off case and the future looks bright, optimistic.