New Delhi: Saina Nehwal endured a frustrating title drought but Indian badminton continued to move forward with the emergence of P V Sindhu as the next big sensation and the introduction of the ambitious Indian Badminton League this year. Last year, Saina had the world at her feat as she became the first Indian to win a medal at the Olympics — a bronze in London — but what followed was a series of fitness issues and inconsistent form and it took a toll on her career. The 23-year-old failed to defend her crowns in Indonesia, Denmark, Switzerland and Thailand and ended the year without a single title and slipped to world number six in the BWF rankings as well. The girl from Hyderabad could not even make it to the finals of these events and her best finishes were at Malaysia Super Series Premier and All England Super Series Premier where she reached semifinals.
While Saina found the going tough, Sindhu hogged the limelight by becoming the first Indian woman to win a singles medal at the World championship in Guangzhou, China, besides winning two Grand Prix gold titles in the year. The 18-year-old lanky shuttler won the Malaysia Grand Prix Gold and Macau Open Grand Prix Gold in April and December respectively. The male shuttlers too broke new grounds with top player Parupalli Kashyap becoming only the second Indian shuttler after Pullela Gopichand to break into the top 10 of world rankings. The 26-year-old Hyderabadi became the World No. 9 in January and then reached as high as world no 6, before falling out of the top 10.
Rising shuttler K Srikanth too made his mark, winning the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold, while his brother Nandagopal also won his maiden title at Maldives International Badminton Challenge alongwith K Maneesha in the mixed doubles competition. In August, the inaugural edition of the Indian Badminton League was launched with much fanfare and the Indians, including Srikanth, HS Prannoy and Ajay Jayaram, once again showed their mettle by beating top shuttlers such as Tien Minh Nguyen and Jan O Jorgensen. Saina was in good form during the IBL and her unbeaten run in the tournament saw Hyderabad Hotshots lifting the crown after defeating Lucknow-based Awadhe Warriors in the finals in August.
The year also had its fair share of controversies when during the Indian Badminton League, the base price of Indian marquee players, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa was reduced on the auction day. The tournament too was plunged into a major controversy when Delhi Smashers threatened to pull out against Banga Beats during a match over the last-minute replacement of injured Hu Yun of Hong Kong with Denmark’s Jan Jorgensen. It snowballed into a big issue when the Badminton Association of India’s disciplinary committee recommended a life ban on Jwala for trying to stop some players of her franchise Delhi Smashers from playing the match. At last, Delhi High Court had to intervene to sort out the issue.
Ranked world number two, Saina started the year on a positive note, reaching the quarters at the season-opening Korea Open and semifinal finishes at Malaysia, England and Switzerland. But the Indian ace crashed out early from Indian Open Grand Prix due to a freak toe injury and was further forced to skip the Sudirman Cup after aggravating the injury.
After recovering from the injury, She came back to play in the South-east Asian circuit and finished in the quarterfinals in Thailand and Singapore, while reached the semifinals in Indonesia. She then reached the quarterfinals of the World Championships before steering her franchise, Hyderabad Hotshots, to the title in the inaugural Indian Badminton League, where she won seven games on the trot. However, the hectic schedule of the IBL left her exhausted as Saina skipped China Masters and Japan Open, before making a comeback at the Denmark Open, where she reached the quarterfinals. Saina’s performance further dipped in the last end of the season as she crashed out of the second round in French Super Series, China Open Premier and Hong Kong Super Series.
Playing in the season-ending World Super Series Final, Saina once again failed to impress as she lost the first two matches and the last group stage win was not good enough to take her through to the finals.