Saina, Sindhu climbed to the top of the ladder that Gopichand set up

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Mumbai, April 2

For decades, India's achievements in international badminton competitions were confined to the men's section with shuttlers such as Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand and Dinesh Khanna ruling the roost. Padukone and Gopichand are the only Indians to ever win the prestigious All-England title in 1980 and 2001, respectively, while Khanna won the bronze at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

The country did produce some strong female players, including Madhumita Bisht, Manjusha Kanwar and Aparna Popat, who had limited success in the international arena.

Padukone and Khanna could not participate in the Olympics as it was included in the Games' roster only in 1992, Gopichand, Madhumita Bisht, Aparna Popat, P.V.V. Laxmi, Dipankar Bhattacharya, Jwala Gutta, and Ashwini Ponnappa did play but could not get a medal.

All this changed around 2010 with the emergence of two female badminton stars -- Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu, who took Indian badminton to the top of the world in the last decade or so.

Saina won the Commonwealth Games gold in the 2010 edition in New Delhi -- the first gold medal by an Indian female badminton player -- and went on to win a bronze in the 2012 Olympics in London, becoming the first Indian badminton player to win a medal in the Olympics.

She went on to become World No. 1 in April 2015 before becoming the first Indian female player to win a silver at the World Championships at Jakarta in August the same year.

Sindhu took Indian badminton a notch higher by winning multiple medals in the Olympic Games -- silver in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and a bronze in the next edition in Tokyo, held in 2021, two bronze (2013, 2014), and two silver (2017, 2018) in World Championships and silver (2018) and gold (2022) in the Commonwealth Games.

The crowning glory for her and Indian badminton was her triumph in the World Championships in the 2019 edition in Basel, Switzerland.

She is one of the few players to have a complete set of medals -- gold, silver and bronze -- in the World Championships and will be one of the top contenders for a medal at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris if she manages to keep herself fit and fighting.

The common link behind the success of both Saina and Sindhu is Gopichand, who coached them in their formative days and laid the foundation for their future success.

Though both Sindhu and Saina left the Gopichand Academy and broke ties with the former All-England winner, it can't be denied that it was Gopichand who set them on the path to glory.

Gopichand brought new ideas and techniques in badminton coaching and set up world-class infrastructure in Hyderabad, putting together a sustained training regimen for Indian badminton players, which has helped stars like Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, H.S. Prannoy and B. Sai Praneeth, besides Saina and Sindhu.

While all eyes are still on Saina and Sindhu, the likes of Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly are emerging as a force to reckon with after winning the bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

With these players firing on all cylinders, Indian badminton can surge to greater heights in the next few years.

--IANS

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