NEW DELHI: Saina Nehwal’s struggle for form summed up a disappointing year for Indian badminton, the rare high point of which was Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa’s World Championships bronze medal.
After a highly successful 2010, during which Saina won a hat-trick of Super Series titles besides the Commonwealth Games gold medal, 2011 turned out to be a disappointing for the Indian as she could win only the Swiss Grand Prix Gold besides two runners-up finishes in Malaysia and Indonesia.
In women’s doubles, however, Commonwealth Games gold medallist pair of Jwala and Ashwini added yet another feather to their cap, when they became the first Indian pair to win a bronze at the World Championships in London in August.
The duo also made it to the quarters at Korea Open and China Open.
In mixed doubles, however, Jwala and V Diju’s ranking dwindled as they could not play many tournaments because of latter’s back surgery, which kept him out of action for a long time this year.
Ajay Jayaram had a breakthrough year in men’s singles as the Chennai-born shuttler reached the quarterfinals in his maiden World Championship.
A week later he reached the semifinal of Vietnam Open Grand Prix and also defeated good players such as Sho Sasaki of Japan, Hans-Kristian Vittinghus of Denmark, Muhammad Hafiz Hashim of Malaysia to achieve a career-best 24th rank in September.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist P Kashyap, however, continued to be India’s highest-ranked player in men’s singles and he reached a career-best ranking of 20 early in the year before tumbling down. He is currently ranked 25th.
The year 2011 also proved fruitful for youngsters with women’s singles players PV Sindhu and Arundhati Pantawane and men’s singles player Sourabh Verma putting up some stupendous performances.
The 16-year-old Sindhu started the year ranked 151 and is currently 42nd. She won the Maldives International Challenge, Victor Indonesia International Challenge and the Swiss International.
She also clinched the Dutch Open title and was on course for another title when she beat Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand in semis before settling for the runner-sup.
Arundhati too started the year well, finishing second in the Nationals before ending runners-up at the Czech International and Estonian International. She also reached the semifinals of the Polish International Championships in April.
Sourabh Varma in his first year in the senior circuit, also made an upward journey, reaching the 70th spot after starting the year at the 243rd spot.
The young prodigy from Madhya Pradesh won the Bahrain International Challenge, besides reaching the quarters at the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold, India Open Superseries and Tata Open India International Challenge.
While the youngsters made their mark, Saina failed to touch the towering standards that she set for herself last year even though she still is at a creditable world number four position in ranking.
Saina was troubled by an ankle injury, which she suffered during the Hong Kong Open last year, during the early part of the season as she crashed out of the Korea Open in the second round.
She was then sent packing by Japanese Sayaka Sato in the quarterfinals of the All England Super Series Premier by Eriko Hirose of Japan in March.
A week later, Saina avenged her loss against Hirose while going on to win the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold — her only title of the year 2011.
Saina was then reduced to tears by Ai Goto of Japan when she was knocked out in the first round of the inaugural Indian Open Super Series in Delhi.
Saina, however, reached the finals of the Malaysian Open Grand Prix Gold where she lost to then world number three Xin Wang of China to finish as runner-up.
In the Sudirman Cup, the Khel Ratna awardee won her first match against Tzu Ying Tai of Chinese Taipei but was shocked in her second match by Junior World Champion Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand.
However, India managed to beat Thailand 3-2 in the tie to book a spot in the quarterfinals of the Elite mixed team event for the first time in history.
In the quarterfinals against China, Saina put up her best performance, beating then World number two Xin Wang but China still managed to move into the semifinals with a 3-1 win over India.
In the Thailand Open, Saina reached the quarterfinals but she made a second round exit in the Singapore Open where she was the defending Champion.
In her attempt to record a third straight win at the Indonesia Open, Saina reached the finals but lost to Chian’s Yihan Wang to finish runner-up.
In the World Championship, Saina once again had to be content with a quarterfinal finish after losing to Xin Wang again in the last-eight stage. In the last two editions, she had made it to the quarters.
Saina’s quarterfinals jinx continued in the China Masters as well as she lost to Yihan. She reached the semifinals of Japan Super Series but was knocked out in the second round at the Denmark Super Series by 17-year-old Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan.
She succumbed to a shocking second round exit once again in the French Open and failed to defend her title at the Hong Kong Open, reaching the semis.
Saina also had a brush with controversy when in April she split up with national coach Pullela Gopichand saying she wanted undivided attention and trained with Bhaskar Babu for some time.
But barely two months after the split, she settled her differences with Gopichand and started training under her mentor with whom she had been associated with for the last six years.
Off the court, the Badminton Association of India hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons as its head V K Verma landed in jail on charges of corruption.