Badminton in 2021: Sindhu's journey to greatness, Srikanth's resurgence & Lakshya's emergence
In the Covid disrupted calendar year, with many events either cancelled or rescheduled, Indian shuttlers grabbed the opportunities that came to them even though a title win remained elusive.
NEW DELHI: PV Sindhu's legend grew with a second Olympic medal, Kidambi Srikanth regained his touch with a historic World championship silver and Lakshya Sen continued to dazzle but the listless performance in team events was a significant low for Indian badminton in a topsy-turvy year.
The COVID-19 pandemic expectedly disrupted the international calendar with many events either cancelled or rescheduled but Indian shuttlers grabbed the opportunities even though a title win eluded them.
If Rio Olympics silver-medallist Sindhu led from the front with a bronze medal at Tokyo and a silver at the season-ending World Tour Final, Srikanth and Lakshya dished out a year-end special, scooping silver and bronze respectively at the World Championships.
It was a moment to rejoice as for the first time, two Indian men returned with medals from one edition of the World Championships, a feat that was earlier achieved by Sindhu and Saina Nehwal in women's singles at the 2017 Glasgow event.
However, neither Sindhu nor Srikanth or Lakshya, who had reached the finals at Dutch Open, could go the full distance as India's title drought continued.
The fact that BWF decided to squeeze nine tournaments into 12 weeks after the resumption of the international circuit also didn't help things as many players were left injured.
Sindhu, the 2019 World champion, was subdued at the Thailand leg at the beginning of the year but she soon reached the final at the Swiss Open in March before coronavirus forced the suspension of three Olympic qualifiers.
Already assured of a place at the Tokyo Games, Sindhu then sealed her place among the greatest when she added a bronze to the Rio silver medal at the biggest multi-sport extravaganza.
She then took a two-month break and hit a consistent run after her return, registering three semifinal finishes at French Open, Indonesia Masters and Indonesia Open.
Sindhu then sizzled at the season-ending World Tour Finals, which ended with a silver medal.
The final finish raised hopes of a successful defence of her world championship gold but it was not to be as Sindhu returned empty-handed from the prestigious event for the first time since 2017.
While Sindhu's season ended with a quarterfinal finish in Huelva, Srikanth and Lakshya more then made up for the disappointment.
Since claiming four titles in five finals in 2017, Srikanth had struggled with fitness and form and the lowest point came when he failed to secure the Tokyo berth due to a mix of injuries and cancellation of qualifiers.
However, the 28-year-old from Guntur shook off the disappointment and slowly found his groove with two semifinal finishes at Hylo Open and Indonesia Masters before an explosive performance at the World Championships.
Srikanth dished out one superlative win after another to enter his first final since the 2019 India Open and in the process, became the first man to earn India a silver at the World Championships.
If Srikanth travelled from despair to ecstasy within a few months, the 20-year-old Lakshya charmed with his youthful exuberance as he continued his fine run from 2019 when he had won five titles before COVID-19 somewhat halted his progress.
The youngster from Almora scripted a final finish at the Dutch Open, made it to the semifinals at Hylo and then reached the knockout stage at World Tour Finals on debut.
Lakshya then sizzled with a bronze at the World Championships, thus joining his mentor Prakash Padukone and B Sai Praneeth.
Struggling with gastroesophageal reflux disease and then post COVID after-effects, HS Prannoy also finished things on a high with a quarterfinal finish in Spain.
It was also a decent year for men's doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy as they reached the semifinals at Toyota Thailand Open, Swiss Open and Indonesia Open before injury to the latter took a toll.
The duo also won two of the three matches against higher-ranked opponents at Tokyo Olympics but missed out of the quarterfinal after it was decided on the basis of the number of games won and lost.
Plagued by injuries, London Olympics bronze-medallist Saina, however, endured a tough year as she failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and also was forced to pull out of the World Championship for the first time in her career.
The former world no. 1 returned to the circuit at Uber Cup but it was cut short due to multiple injuries, including a groin issue.
While the singles players did well, India cut a sorry figure at team events -- Sudirman Cup and Thomas and Uber Cup Finals.
With star players missing, India made an early exit from the Sudirman Cup after winning just one match out of three.
The men's team and women's teams produced a slightly better show at Thomas and Uber Cup Final, finishing at the quarterfinal stage.
The only bright spot was that the likes of Aditi Bhatt, Malvika Bansod, the men's doubles pair of Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun, Gayatri Gopichand, Rutuporna Panda, Tanisha Crasto, Tasneem Mir and Theresa Jolly hugely benefitted from the campaign.
Other upcoming shuttlers such as Aman Farogh Sanjay, Revati Devasthale, Priyanshu Rajawat also gave hope to Indian badminton by registering international wins in the year gone by.