Indian badminton will have a sizable representation at the season-ending BWF World Tour FInals set to begin in Bali, Indonesia, on December 1. With P V Sindhu leading the charge in the women’s singles, Lakshya Sen and Kidambi Srikanth in the men’s, and the men's and women’s doubles pairs (Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty; Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy) in the fray, it will be India’s best ever representation at the $ 1,50,000 event.
A high point for Indian badminton at the end of the year, no doubt. However, the surge also makes us wonder whether this late momentum in an Olympic year should actually be celebrated as a sign of the country’s fortunes in the game soaring.
Seven Indians feature in the year-ender. However, let us not forget that only four made the cut for the Tokyo Olympics in July-August, with Sindhu winning the lone medal and Rankireddy-Shetty and B Sai Praneeth not progressing into the knockouts. The question now is whether the Indian badminton thinktank is missing the Olympic boat because they don't set the players’ journey to peak for the grand stage. Instead, they tend to peak after the Olympics when the rest of the world (the elites) has more-or-less eased off for the year. Sindhu is an exception, no doubt. But shouldn’t exceptions become the norm in a professional sporting set-up?
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Take for instance Srikanth. The former World No. 1 seems to be near his peak form, and made the cut with a string of good performances in the BWF tour. He is looking good with semifinal finishes at Indonesia Masters and Hylo Open, and is showing signs of the run that saw him become World No. 1 towards the end of 2018.
The year 2018 is the key here. Srikanth’s world beating spree fell bang in between two Olympic Games, right when the big names are preparing to build toward the next Olympic cycle by pacing themselves and their physical and technical intensity.. Managing the Olympic cycle is important in any sport, but the Indian badminton managers seem to be happy with the victories that come by, not by the stage.
Sindhu seems to be working on a parallel plane though. Good for her and her individual journey. She is the only Indian to win the BWF finale title in 2018, and the reigning world champion was a finalist at the event the year before. The two-time Olympic medallist has been consistent with three semifinal finishes in the last three events and is likely to make it to the knockout stage. She opens her campaign against top seed Pornpawee Chochuwong of Thailand in Group A.
Debutants Sen and Rankireddy-Shetty have a baptism by fire awaiting them in Bali. They have been clubbed in tough groups and it is unlikely we will see them progress into the next stage.
Sen is in Group A with top seed and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, two-time world champion Kento Momota of Japan and Denmark's Rasmus Gemke. The 20-year-old, who had reached the finals of Dutch Open and achieved semifinal results at the Denmark Masters and Hylo Open this year, will open against Gemke.
The doubles pair of Rankireddy and Shetty faces top seeded Indonesians Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo in the opener. The World No.3 pair of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin of Chinese Taipei, and No.10 Denmark's Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen come next for the Indians in Group A.
In women's doubles, Ponappa and Reddy will compete with Japan's second seeds Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida in their opener. Bulgaria's Gabriela Stoeva and Stefani Stoeva, and Chloe Birch and lauren Smith of England stand in their way towards the second round.
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