Male shuttlers need to step it up
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India's highest-ranked men's shuttler Parupalli Kashyap broke into the Top 20 for the first time in his career immediately after the Olympics where he beat former Top 10 Vietnamese Nguyen Tien Minh and made the quarters. Saina Nehwal played the semis and returned with a bronze.
This last week, PV Sindhu and Ajay Jayaram played semifinals at the China Masters. Both lost. But Sindhu walked away with the headlines, a day after she'd beaten the Chinese Olympic champion. It would seem like the boys are toiling thanklessly, and girls having all the fun. The starkest difference staring India's male shuttlers in the face is that one stunning victory over a top world player — something both Nehwal and Sindhu have managed now, while the boys plod on. It's been 10 years since an Indian made the singles Top 10 of the world (V Diju did, in mixed doubles) — that was national coach P Gopichand. It's also been five years since an Indian male shuttler scalped a name, worthy of being called a sensation — that was Anup Sridhar's World Championship upset win over former World No 1 and Olympic champ Taufik Hidayat. No surprise then that despite more men figuring in the world's Top 60 (currently 5) than women (just the 2), Indian badminton tends to be equated with success in the women's ranks.
It's not that the current crop haven't been trying hard. Both P Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram have managed to scoop out a few wins against some Top Tenners — against Nguyen and Japanese Kenichi Tago notably, but a breakout victory against a Top 5 eludes them, bringing their efforts at shuttle's stardom to nought. Many drops might form an ocean, but many ripples don't make a wave.
India has watched a generation — comprising Chetan Anand, Aravind Bhat and Anup Sridhar — plateau after reaching mid-table, and now more than ever before, the need for one of the current lot to break through seems almost pressing.