After cricket, badminton is the second most played sport nationwide in India. Most of the time, Indians have seen it as more of a casual sport than something which can have national pride attached to it. However, its popularity as a pro sport is ever-growing since India’s recent success in the international badminton scene. The biggest factor we have to thank is the success of the star players themselves. So here’s a rundown of the top 7 Indian badminton players today:
Without a doubt, Saina is the face of the game in India, and she has more than earned her fame as the first Indian woman to ever hold the World’s No. 1 title in 2015. Add to this. Moreover, she has won gold twice in the Commonwealth Games (2010, 2018), silver in the 2015 BWF World Championship, and bronze in the 2012 London Olympic Games. This makes her the only Indian to have a medal in every major BWF event, earning her special place in the Badminton hall of fame as the player who single-handedly fueled the leap of India’s popular interest in pro badminton.
Saina Nehwal may have been the most celebrated Indian shuttler of the past decade. But P.V. Sindhu is the only other player on the scene who can possibly supersede Saina with more experience. As a child prodigy, she broke the BWF Top 20 chart in 2012 at the young age of 17. Since then, her trophy collection has only been exponentially growing – including the mantle of the first Indian shuttler to win the Korean Open and to reach the finals of an Olympics Badminton event. In addition, she also has a Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 2018 mixed event. On top of that, she has an outstanding record of back-to-back medals in the World Championships – two silvers in 2017 and 2018, and a gold in 2019.
Arguably one of the most important male shuttlers of our generation, Kidambi has, deservedly, earned the Padma Shri and Arjuna awards. Garnering mainstream attention since his 2013 Thailand Grand Prix Open Gold victory, he has since won a medal at every BWF Grand Prix Open. Kidambi is among the world’s finest male players in singles, going toe to toe against legends like Lin Dan and coming out on top. The first peak of his career was 2017 when he won four Super Series trophies in the same season. The next year, he climbed the ranks to hold the World No. 1 title. However, this was only for a week, and his career has since run into a dry spell due to injuries.
Most of the finest badminton players have a lot of awards and laurels behind their name. Parupali Kashyap has a few such honours himself. He has two Commonwealth medals and Grand Prix Gold victories, to name a few. But it is his sheer willpower that exalts him to a much more heroic pedestal. Despite his struggle with asthma, he still made history by being the only Indian to reach quarterfinals in Olympics men’s singles in 2012.
Gopichand was himself a highly successful shuttler back in the late 90’s, winning a number of men’s singles. This includes four IBF Internationals, an Asian Championship and Commonwealth bronze, and the 2001 All England Open. However, he has played an even bigger part as a mentor. As a coaching institute, his academy has been the training grounds of many iconic shuttlers of our generation. In fact, all four players featured on this list so far are his students.
Padukone was all the jazz in the 80’s Badminton scene. Commonwealth gold in 1978, medals in World Championship 1983, World Cup in 1981, World Games the same year – you name it. He even held the sash of World’s No. 1 for a few months in 1980, at the heyday of his career – which would continue, like Gopichand, as a noteworthy coach to mentor new blood.
The sport of pro-Badminton only gained mainstream fame in recent years. In the past decade, we have seen biopics and talk show cameos from celeb shuttlers. But Nandu Natekar comes from a time far before all this. He was among the first pioneers any Badminton enthusiasts – be it as the first Indian to win a title on foreign soil, with more than a hundred such triumphs to follow.
Now that India has made quite a splash on the international scene for more than a decade, its growing presence has cemented an even brighter future for the sport. With the greater infrastructure to train and numerous Indian Badminton legends to inspire them, we will only see greater prominence and success for a new generation of shuttlers.
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