A Comprehensive History of India at the Badminton World Championships

India has not had a, very healthy equation with World championships over the years. But from 2021 we have started doing well. It was our legendary shuttler Prakash Padukone who set the shuttle rolling, so to say when he stormed into the semifinals of the 1983 world championships. He lost to Indonesian Ichuk Sugiarto a stocky defensive player and settled for a bronze medal, but we will come to that later.

It then took another 30 years before PV Sindhu could claim the next medal when she also won a bronze medal in 2013 and repeated her feat in 2014 also.
But the next male player who could get a medal was Sai Praneeth when at Basel in Switzerland he created history of sorts when he snatched a bronze, in 2019, an astonishing 36 years after Prakash won his medal.

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It is not easy to win a medal in world championships as you have to have a very strong culture and presence of badminton in your country. And it takes years of top-class training before a world championships medallist is groomed.

In the years of Prakash playing badminton, he was the lone ranger from India who kept the flag flying for the country in the harsh but scintillating world of competitive badminton. There was no coaching, no academies of any sort. He was a totally self-made shuttler who astounded the country and indeed the world, with his genius.

Things however changed very rapidly for Indian Badminton when Pullela Gopichand started his academy in 2008 after a bit of struggle. The 2001 All England champion was given a 5-acre plot to start his world-class academy at Hyderabad by the then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in recognition of his great win at the All England. After a titanic struggle, he finally started training in 2008 and produced a plethora of world-class players including Saina Nehwal who had joined in 2008 and within a year she raced to world rank 2.

There was no stopping Gopi after that. And it was not long before Indian players became strong enough to challenge the supremacy of other nations who were world powers in the sport. Starting from the bronze won by Sindhu in 2013, we have now won a total of 10 medals, including the bronze won by Prakash Padukone.

In the world championships 2022 at Tokyo, 26 players have qualified to play the championships, and along with some 14 support staff, this is a huge contingent, by any standards. It also indicates that Indian Badminton has come of age.

So what has been the history of Indian participation in these championships? The obvious start has to be the legendary shuttler from Bangurulu.

Prakash Padukone

The grand old man of Indian Badminton Prakash Padukone was a giant of a player. Brought up in Malleswaram, in Bangalore, he learnt and played for years in the community marriage hall, which also had tiles flooring and not the adequate height required for the game. But these impediments did not stop him from blossoming into one of the finest shuttlers the world has seen.

Starting with a gold medal in the 1978 Commonwealth games, he won a plethora of titles in the world, including the fabled All England in a shuttling blitzkrieg, which saw him winning the Danish and Swedish open titles in the course of three weeks.

A top 5 ranked player in the world for years, he was ranked world number 1 in 1980 after the three titles win as mentioned above. In the world cup 1981 and 1985, he won gold and silver respectively.

In the world games 1981 he got a bronze, in Asian Games he got 2 Bronze member medals and in the Asian championships, he won a silver and a bronze medal.

It was in the 1983 World championships that he got a bronze medal. He forced himself to play despite severe heel pain. Prakash lost to Ichuk Sugiarto in the semifinals 15-9/7-15/1-15 in Copenhagen.

Saina Nehwal

A hugely successful shuttler, who actually was the new face of Indian badminton when she astounded the sports world in 2009 by reaching the world number 2 spot as a teenager.

She was an aggressive hustler on the court, who believed she was the best in the world and treated all opponents with disdain. Saina had that Midas touch, turning everything into gold as far as international titles were concerned.

But despite being such a devastating player, Saina was singularly unlucky at world championships. She played her first WC in 2006 but lost in the first round to Jiang yanJiao. The same year she stormed into the finals of the world junior championships only to lose out to Chinese Wang Yihan in a closely fought match.

At the 2007 world championships she defeated Jianine Cicognini of Switzerland and in the next round defeated the 13-seeded Julian Schenk of Germany, but lost in the next round to Pi Hongyan of France in two easy games 13-21/17-21.

2018 saw her defeating Japanese Sayaka Sato 21-9/21-18 to win the world junior championships in style.

2008 was an Olympic year, therefore, no world championship. In the 2009 championships, she reached the quarter-finals but lost out to Wang Lin the second seed. Just two months earlier Saina had defeated Wang in the finals of the Indonesian open 12-21/21-18/21-9, thereby becoming the first Indian to win a BWF super series title.

In 2010, she crashed out of the WC held in Paris. 2011 saw her losing to Wang Xin 10-21/15-21 in the quarterfinals. And there was no WC in 2012 because of London Olympics.

In 2013 Saina had another quarterfinals exit. This time to Korean Bang Yeun Ju
21-23/9-21. She was out injured in the year 2014.

And finally, after 8 exits in the quarterfinals or before, Saina finally broke the jinx of the WC in 2015 and reached the semifinals. She was now assured of a WC medal at last. She was not done yet as she faced the home favourite Finetri, overpowered her and reached the finals where she lost to Carolina Marin.

Saina was the first Indian to reach a WC final. 2016 was the year of the Rio Olympics.

In the 2017 WC at Glasgow Saina was seeded 12. She beat Sabrina Jawuet in the first round and then showed the exit to the second-seeded Sung Ji Hyun of Korea.

She then defeated Kristy Gilmour of Scotland in the pre-quarterfinals but lost out to Nazomi Okhuhara of Japan in the last 8.

At the 2018 WC Saina defeated the deadly Ratchanok of Thailand to actually reach the semifinals but was stopped here by Carolina Marin yet again.

The last event was the 2019 WC which she lost to Mia Blichfeldt in a bitterly fought match 21-15/25-27/12-21.

PV Sindhu

PV Sindhu has been the most accomplished player from India, so far, in the World Championships.

The two-time Olympic medalist, Sindhu, has won a record five medals at the WC. These include two bronze, two silver and that solitary and much-coveted gold medal in 2019.

She got her first medal, a bronze in 2013. This precocious teenager, at just 18 years of age, defeated some really legendary players. Seeded 10 she first eclipsed Kaori Imabeppu of Japan easily before running into the defending champion Wang Yihan, of China. In 54 minutes of pulsating badminton, she managed a memorable victory 21-19, 23-21. Sindhu then ran into another top Chinese shuttler Wang Shixian and prevailed 21-18/21-17 before losing to Ratchanok Intanon in her next match to claim bronze.

In the 2014 WC in Denmark, Sindhu created history of sorts when she got a back-to-back WC medal. She was seeded seventh and in the round of 16, she ran into Bang Hyun Ju of Korea. In a tough fight, she managed to edge out the opponent, 19-21/22-20/25-23. Sindhu then defeated old friend Wang Shixian, 19-21,21-15/21-15 to claim the bronze.

Sindhu became the first Indian to get two medals in the WC.

In the year 2015, Sindhu defeated Li Xeurian, a new and fast-rising star from China who was seeded 3 in the championships, in the round of 16. She was then pitted to play against Sung Ji Hyun of Korea, dynamite of a player. The Korean stopped Sindhu in the quarter-finals.

2016. Was the year of the Rio Olympics, so no world championships that year.

Moving on to the year 2017, there was great news for Sindhu in the fact that she was appointed Dy. Collector by the Andhra Pradesh govt. In Krishna district in the office of the chief commissioner of Land Administration.

In Badminton, she had some stunning performances. At the 2017 WC, she was seeded 4 and in the round of 32, she beat Korean Kim Hyo Min. The next round was a three-game affair against Hong Kong shuttler Cheung Ngan Yi. The next two rounds she won in straight games against Sun Yu and Chinese Chen Yufei and stepped into her first WC finals. Here she lost a very close battle against Naomi Okhuhara 19-21/22-20/20-22 in a 110 minutes marathon and had to be satisfied with silver.

But her time had to come and in the 2018 WC, she was in superlative form throughout and gave a commanding display with a really aggressive show till the finals, where she lost out really tamely to Spanish genius Carolina Marin 18-21/10-21. However in the earlier round, she had played extremely well, and in full form defeated the defending champion Naomi Okhuhara 21-17/21-19.

It was now 2019 and one wondered if she will at all win the title in the WC.

She had already won four medals. Was she hungry for one more and what colour will the medal be?

Going in as the 5th seed, she showed the exit to Pai Yu Po and Biewan Zhang in the early rounds. In the quarter-finals Sindhu overcame a first-game loss against seed 2, Tai Tzu Ying to carve out a great win 12-21/23-21/21-19.

In the semis, she accounted for seed 3 Chen Yu Fei of China 21-7/21-14 to set up another encounter against old rival Naomi Okuhara.

Sindhu was in fantastic form as she decimated the Japanese star 21-7/21-7 to snatch the gold medal. This was a flawless display of aggressive but controlled badminton.

Sai Praneeth

In a way, Sai Praneeth had been an exceptional player, but one who never rose to his full potential.

A naturally deceptive shuttler who plays disguised shots which fool the opponent.

In 20013, at the Thailand open he beat Muhammad Hashim the all-England champion that year from Malaysia. He then defeated Taufiqe Hidayat in the first round of the 2013 Indonesian open 15-21/21-12/21-17 and in 2016 all England he stunned Lee Choong Wei 24-22/22-20.

Sai Praneeth also played a rare game when he defeated Lin Dan and another Chinese, Chen Hong.

In fact, he must be one of only players to have defeated all three legends of modern-day badminton Lin Dan, Taufiqe Hidayat and the crafty Lee Chong Wei.

The problem with Sai Praneeth was that he was not consistent with his badminton.

As far as the WC are concerned, he won the bronze medal in 2019 at Basel. He lost to Kento Mamota in the semifinals, who went on to win the title. And this was the only WC he qualified to participate in.

He also had two bronze medals in Asian team championships and gold in SAARC games.

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Shrikant Kidambi

This doughty fighter created history in the 2021 WC in Spain when he rammed his way into the finals, after defeating compatriot Lakshya Sen in one of the most fascinating matches seen in any WC, down the pages of history.

The same year in April he was ranked world number 1.

Lakshay Sen

Lakshya is the prodigal son of Indian badminton. He has had a terrific season this year so far as he won the India Open, reached the finals, of the German Open and all England.

In the German open he defeated Viktor Axelson. And in his debut in the WC, he won a bronze medal. A rare feat.

Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponappa

Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa, the best doubles pair on the distaff side produced by India, won gold at the CWG 2010, followed by a silver at the CWG 2014.

Ranked 6 in the world, this pair snatched a bronze medal in the 2011 WC.

The duo defeated 12th seeds Vita Marissa/ Nadya Meluti, 17-21/21-10/21-17 to storm into the semifinals where they lost to the 5th seeds from China Tian Wing/Zhou Yunlan to claim bronze.

In an earlier round, they beat Poon Lok Yan/ Tse Ying Suet of Hongkong 19-21/21-17/21-19.

In the very next round, the Indian pair shocked the 2nd seeds Chan Won Hsing/Chien Ho 21-18/21-10.

Jwala and Ashwini were the first Indians in doubles who could win a medal.

Of the 26 entries in the WC for India, as many as four players have found a berth in men’s singles. These are Kidambi Shrikanth, Lakshaya Sen, Sai Praneeth and the ever-dependable HS Prannoy.

Ladies singles will see two entries Saina and Sindhu. And astonishing is the fact that ten pairs have made the cut for the main draw. Who would have thought just 3-4 years back that so many Indians will qualify for these championships?

Let’s hope that we pick up a few medals and bring glory to India.

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