This year had not been great for Indian badminton till now. With crucial events approaching, it has received a shot in the arm from unexpected quarters. The victory of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty at the Thailand Open is significant in many ways. India’s ascent in this game was catalysed by two singles players. While it is true that Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa took bronze at the 2011 World Championships and remain the only Indian pair to win a medal in the competition, Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu made the country the force it is. From 2012 to 2018, they won medals at the Olympic and World Championships, and also retained their place in the top 10 for almost the entire duration. But the doubles kept fading alarmingly fast.
Satwik and Chirag’s triumph in a top tournament, beating the reigning world champions from China in the finals, at least checks this disproportionate growth for the moment. Countries that do well in badminton excel in singles and doubles. The system pays equal attention to the latter in men’s, women’s and mixed categories. In India it was impossible to look beyond singles. The parent body deserves credit for addressing this problem. Satwik and Chirag started in Pullela Gopichand’s academy, but they were brought together and nurtured by foreign coaches hired by the federation. Their rise in the world rankings in 2016 has a lot to do with these coaches and the system. With due credit to Gopichand for what he has done, it’s good that another initiative has borne fruit.
The performance of Indians in this Olympic qualification year had been discouraging so far. Other than a title won by Saina in January and a runner-up finish each by Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth, nobody reached the podium. For a country winning medals in every World Championship from 2011 and the competition coming up later this month, it was hardly the ideal build-up. The success of Satwik and Chirag is notable also because it helps Indian badminton hope afresh, of a medal from the uncharted territory.