Hyderabad’s Gopichand Badminton Academy, run by former star shuttler Pullela Gopichand, could be considered a national heritage site in the years to come. Single-handedly, they have restored the Badminton scene in a country obsessed with cricket, by training players to be Champions instead of mere competitors. Their efforts have been reaping rewards through the years through former World no. 2 Saina Nehwal—who is currently in the midst of a relative slump—but it is now teen sensation and World no. 11 PV Sindhu who is leading the charge on the world stage.
Sindhu made history in 2013 by becoming the first ever women’s singles player to win a medal at the World Championships—something Saina Nehwal has failed to do over the years. She had beaten two of three dreaded Chinese Champions: defending Champion Wang Yihan on the way (against who Saina has a 1-8 record), as well as big-tournament player Wang Shixian before bowing out in the semifinals. This was an unprecedented achievement (with only Prakash Padukone being the previous World Championship medallist), and Sindhu was tipped to be the next big thing.
Saina’s era isn’t exactly over—she is still India’s Olympic medallist—but she couldn’t defend her Commonwealth gold this year, and has just crashed out to World no. 1 Li Xuerui 21-15 21-15 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Championships. This is the fifth consecutive time Nehwal has crashed out at this stage, but this time it was her lack of fight and the manner in which she has exited that may worry her fans and well-wishers. She may not have completely recovered from her gamut of injuries yet, but it is important for her to continue her Indian dominance at the very least. Many may argue that she drew the short straw in the draw to face the Olympic Champion so early, but one must defeat at least one of the top 3 Chinese sensations to win a medal—which Sindhu has just managed to do again.
Sindhu has defeated Wang Shixian once again in a battle of attrition over more than an hour of sapping Badminton, over three games. After leading in all 3 games, and losing the first game narrowly at 21-19, Sindhu profited from a bit of net luck in the second to win it 21-19 before storming through in the final game 21-15, thus in a position to create history for Indian badminton. This is the first time an Indian player—male or female—will win two medals at the World Championships. Sindhu, though, must want to go one up on her 2013 performance here, and will definitely aim to take down perhaps the undefeatable Li Xuerui in the final. She is fresh from a bronze at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, but she will now want to be known as the player to go for silver or golds for a change.
Irrespective of what medal she manages to win, PV Sindhu is now a household name in a sport that deserves far more recognition than the few sports bylines it gets. Even male shuttler Kashyap managed a gold at the Glasgow games to make up for the absence of Nehwal—another product of the Gopichand Academy. 2014 could well be recognized as the year Indian Badminton began to be globally represented by more than just one gritty face.