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In another court: men who transformed badminton in India (.hindu)

K. Srikanth, Sai Praneeth and H.S. Prannoy have transformed men’s badminton in India

K. Srikanth brought joy in two equal helpings. The 24-year-old won back-to-back badminton titles in the space of eight days, on Sunday adding the Australian Open title to the higher-rated Indonesia Open he had clinched on June 18. Success is not new to Srikanth, and in Sydney his domination of an elite field could be gauged from the fact that he dropped just one game in five matches. Even more heartening, he is part of a cohort in Indian men’s badminton, with the likes of B. Sai Praneeth and H.S. Prannoy, who have been beating elite players this season. For instance, Srikanth has upstaged the current World No. 1, Korea’s Son Wan Ho, twice in two weeks and raced past the reigning World and Olympic champion, Chen Long, in Sunday’s final at Sydney. He will be back in the world’s top 10 ranking this week, having also beaten World No. 4 and the topmost Chinese, Shi Yuqi, twice this year. In fact, Srikanth, who had overcome a bout of brain fever in July 2014 to become World No. 3 a year later, has beaten all the leading Chinese players. Praneeth, winner of the Singapore Open and the Thailand Open, is finally realising his potential. Interestingly, Praneeth holds a 5-2 head-to-head record against Srikanth, and the latter’s dream run is bound to increase his confidence of also beating the best in the world. Prannoy, unbeaten in this year’s Premier Badminton League and conqueror of the legendary Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long in successive matches in the Indonesia Open this month, will also expect to strike it rich going ahead. In sum, Srikanth, Praneeth and Prannoy are on track for a potential podium finish in the World Championship in Glasgow in August.

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With Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu maintaining their formidable challenge in the women’s game, Indian badminton now has a strong nucleus of the world’s best. The biggest gain of late has been the consistency with which the male shuttlers are delivering, with each believing he has the game to outdo the other. This healthy competitiveness, coupled with the maturity and patience shown on the court of late, is paying dividends. Srikanth has wisely refrained from being in attack mode at will. Known for his powerful smashes, his current use of soft strokes and deft touches is proving very effective, complementing the deep clearances from the backhand corner. Pullela Gopi Chand’s role in the success of these players is well-known; Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo too has clearly made an impact, especially in rallying the players to think clearly in the heat of a match. As a result, Indian shuttlers are no longer ‘choking’ against more illustrious rivals. Significantly, all the leading overseas players today have lost to an Indian at least once. On current form, at least a medal each from the men’s and women’s singles in this year’s World Championship is now a realistic expectation.

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