She went on to win more than 20 big international titles, became the toast of the nation by winning the gold at 2010 Commonwealth Games and entered the history books when she became the first Indian shuttler to win a medal at the Olympics in 2012.
The very next year, 17-year-old PV Sindhu caught the imagination with a bronze at the Worlds. That was a first by an Indian woman and also the second after a gap of 30 years for India. She soon surpassed Saina and became the new superstar and flag bearer of Indian badminton.
All this while, half-a-dozen boys who used to train with these girls at the Pullela Gopichand Academy, watched the duo with delight. They started replicating the feats of the girls, but only in patches. Parupalli Kashyap, who married Saina, triumphed at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Srikanth stunned everyone by winning four Super Series titles in 2017. He went on to become the world No. 1, a feat yet to be achieved by PV Sindhu. Sai Praneeth won the World bronze in 2019.
Barring these, the boys hardly matched the girls. However, there is no dearth of potential and the fact that three of them reached the quarterfinals at the Worlds and two of them finished on the podium, indicates the rise in the performance of the men. HS Prannoy, Srikanth and Sai could be around at the 2024 Olympics, while the younger crop of Lakshya Sen, Priyanshu Rajawat, Pranav Rao Gandam, Maisnam Meiraba are showing a lot of promise.
Almost all these players are from the Gopichand academy. However, in a significant development, a big player has emerged from another badminton academy after several years – Lakshya Sen. The competition between Gopichand and Prakash Padukone academy augurs well for Indian badminton.
Chief coach Pullela Gopichand says that it is high time we harness this talent. “There is a lot of talent available in the country. There are many youngsters with huge potential. It is time we harness this talent. But as I have been saying always, we don’t have a system to take care of this talent. We need to set this up as soon as possible,” Gopichand said.
Former international and Lakshya’s coach U Vimal Kumar said that Lakshya’s show is a good sign. Vimal even identified the future stars in men’s singles. “Lakshya doing well at the highest level and making a mark amongst the top definitely is a good sign. We have players like Kiran George, Priyanshu, Meiraba. They are all good singles players who can make it big,” Vimal said, adding that these players need good exposure.
“All they need is exposure to the right tournaments to get into the top-50 by next year. This World Championship has provided a glimmer of hope again after three years of disappointing performances by our men’s singles players. I am sure young Lakshya’s exploits will motivate the other youngsters aspiring to make a mark on the big stage,” Vimal said.
Vimal felt sad that Srikanth lost three good years of his career. “Srikanth coming back to form is very heartening. I feel sad his best three years were wasted… I feel that Sameer Verma too can do well in the coming years.”