From Saina Nehwal’s bronze in London 2012 to P.V. Sindhu‘s silver in Rio 2016, badminton has been one of India’s strongholds since the turn of the millennium. Considering the talent and potential the Indian shuttlers possess, badminton remains one of India’s best bets for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Indian contingent will be spearheaded by women’s singles player P.V. Sindhu, while the mantle of leading men’s singles charge rests on B. Sai Praneeth’s shoulders. Last, but not the least, the men’s doubles pairing of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are an exciting proposition as in a short span of time, the two have gone toe-to-toe against some of the very best in the business and will be dark horses at the Tokyo Olympics.
A lot will be riding on the shoulders of the 2016 Rio Games silver medalist. The 25-year-old has had her fair share of disappointments as she lost the finals of major tournaments on six occasions in the last five years. The procession started with the 2016 South Asian Games and continued from there on, with Sindhu losing finals of the 2017 Glasgow World Championships and then again the following year, this time held in Nanjing, China. Sindhu then lost in the finals of the 2018 Commonwealth Games and then again at the 2018 Asian Games. Though she finally broke her duck in spectacular fashion with a gold medal at the 2019 World Championships held in Basel, Switzerland, becoming the first Indian to hold the world champion crown.
Sindhu has been in fine form in the lead up to Tokyo Olympics, and the current world number seven hasn’t rested on her laurels as she reached the final of the Yonex Swiss Open 2021, which was rescheduled for March, where she lost to a familiar foe and her biggest threat for gold, Carolina Marín, 12-21, 5-21; the Spanish shuttler outclassed Sindhu in what was a one-sided affair. Then, a fortnight later in the All England Open Badminton Championship, she reached the semifinals, losing out to Pornpawee Chochuwong of Thailand.
It is Sindhu’s consistency that makes her stand out from the rest of the female Indian shuttlers. She is a big match player and has proven her mettle on the biggest stage time and again. The 25-year-old is nearing the prime of her career, and the added incentive of being one of the flag-bearers for the country can only spur her to go that extra mile and grab another medal for India.
Sai Praneeth broke through into the international circuit in 2013 when he stunned the 2003 All England Champion Muhammad Hafiz Hashim of Malaysia at the 2013 Thailand Open Grand Pix Gold tournament in the first round. For the next three years, Sai continued to stun the very best in the world as he slowly climbed his way up the ladder. In 2016, he won his maiden Grand Prix trophy by winning the 2016 Canada Open Grand Prix; in the final match he defeated Lee Hyun-il of South Korea by 21-12, 21-10. He won the Singapore Open Super Series in 2017, becoming only the fourth Indian to win a Super Series title after Srikanth Kidambi, Saina Nehwal, and P.V. Sindhu.
After winning the bronze medal at the 2019 BWF World Championships in 2019, Sai Praneeth became the first Indian male shuttler in 36 years to win a medal at the World Championships after Prakash Padukone in 1983. And in the lead up to the Tokyo Games, the 28-year-old has been in decent form. In the Swiss Open, he lost to Lee Zii Jia of Malaysia in the quarter-finals by 14-21, 17-21. Lee eventually lost in the semis but went on to win the All England Championships a fortnight later, while Sai lost to Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the Round of 16. Viktor is the current world number two and a strong contender for gold at Tokyo, but Sai gave the Danish a tough fight as he narrowly lost by 21-15, 12-21, 12-21.
Currently ranked 15th with 56,467 points, Praneeth is the lone Indian male shuttler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. He missed out at Rio despite his Super Series title that year. Talking about his improved capabilities at handling crunch situations, in a video posted by SAI, Praneeth said: “I have learnt a lot from the sport. My willpower has gotten stronger over the years. It has made me strong both physically and mentally. It has taught me to accept failures, move on, and become stronger than ever.”
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Satwiksairaj Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty
In a country where badminton excels mostly in the singles discipline, with the sharp rise of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, Indian badminton has started to look formidable in men’s doubles too. Although they are currently ranked 10th in the world, the chemistry and their determination to improve with each tournament have been next to none. The pair defied all odds to win a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where they lost against the English duo of Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge. The pair then spectacularly won the 2019 Thailand Open Super 500 Series against the then world number three pairing of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen. The duo then lost out in the final of the 2019 French Open Super 750 Series against world number one Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia.
Under the tutelage of new national doubles coach Mathias Boe, a London Olympic silver medalist himself, Chirag and Satwik will aim to add that European style to their game. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the pair said, “I think it’s a lot different from the earlier coaches we have had. The approach is very different. When we get on the court, there is a lot more thought process while playing a specific stroke. So it’s good to have a different kind of voice. It takes time to get used to it but eventually since the Olympics is our target, we still have a lot of time to get used to it.”
Back after the prolonged break due to the pandemic, the duo experienced mixed fortunes in the BWF World Tour this year. Although they managed to fight their way through to the semi-finals of the Thailand Open Super 500 and Swiss Open Super 300, they were also knocked out in the second round of the All England Open. And with the Malaysian Open and Singapore Open cancelled, deprived of competition and match fitness, the duo has been working on their flaws and fine-tuning the rough edges of their game before the Tokyo Olympics.