PV Sindhu cemented her position as a dominant force on the world stage with an Olympic silver medal while Saina Nehwal continued to battle with injuries in a year, which saw Indian badminton take giant strides at the global platform.
It turned out to be a watershed year for Sindhu, who reached the upper echelons of world badminton with a silver medal at Rio Games — an achievement also for her mentor and chief coach Pullela Gopichand, who became the only Indian coach to produce two Olympic medallists.
On the other hand, for the first part of the year, it was Saina’s battle with injuries which dominated the headlines even though she was considered to be the best bet for India at Rio. The Indian ace fought against time to recover from an Achilles tendons and went on to win the Australian Super Series.
Despite her two bronze medals at the World Championship, Sindhu, meanwhile, was still considered one of the hopefuls but not a serious contender for the gold medal, partly because of her early exits from tournaments in the run-up to the Games. But Olympics had contrasting fates awaiting the duo.
While Saina exited in the second round and later, it came to light that she had a bone chip floating inside her knee area, Sindhu went on to become the first Indian shuttler to win a silver at Games and with the feat she finally stepped out of the Saina’s shadow.
In the months after that, Saina underwent a surgery in Mumbai and spent a long time in rehab, while Sindhu basked in her Olympic glory.
Besides the Olympic feat, Sindhu also etched her name in history books, becoming only the third Indian to win the China Open, her maiden Super Series Premier title and then reached the finals at Hong Kong Open and finished as semi-finalist in her debut World Super Series Finals at Dubai. “It has been a fantastic year for me, because winning a medal at the Olympics is a big achievement. It’s a dream come true. Also, I always had in mind that I wanted to win a Super Series title and that also was fulfilled (at the China Open),” Sindhu said.
Besides Sindhu’s meteoric rise, various Indian players ticked the right boxes across the world and contributed to making it a memorable year for Indian badminton.
On the other hand, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa also made it to the Olympics for the second successive edition, the year saw the celebrated women’s doubles pair split early last month and pair up with Manu and Sikki respectively for women’s doubles and mixed doubles respectively.
There were also others such as Commonwealth Games champion P Kashyap and Glasgow bronze-medallist RMV Gurusaidutt, who battled throughout the year to get back to full fitness.
“It’s been a challenge year for men shuttlers. Many of them have played many tournaments, trying to qualify for the Olympics, that actually somewhere made dents in their fitness,” Gopichand said.