Lukewarm 2011 for Saina and badminton
New Delhi: Saina Nehwal`s struggle for form summed up a disappointing year for Indian Badminton, the rare high point of which was Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa`s World Championships bronze medal. After a highly successful 2010, during which Saina won a hat-trick of Super Series titles besides the Commonwealth Games gold medal, 2011 turned out to be a disappointing year
for the Indian as she could win only the Swiss Grand Prix Gold besides two runners-up finishes in Malaysia and Indonesia.
In women`s doubles, however, Commonwealth Games gold medallist pair of Jwala and Ashwini added yet another feather to their cap, when they became the first Indian pair to win
a bronze at the World Championships in London in August. The duo also made it to the quarters at Korea Open and China Open.
In mixed doubles, however, Jwala and V Diju`s ranking dwindled as they could not play many tournaments because of latter`s back surgery, which kept him out of action for a long time this year. Ajay Jayaram had a breakthrough year in men`s singles as the Chennai-born shuttler reached the quarterfinals in his maiden World Championship. A week later he reached the semifinal of Vietnam Open Grand Prix and also defeated good players such as Sho Sasaki of Japan, Hans-Kristian Vittinghus of Denmark, Muhammad Hafiz Hashim of Malaysia to achieve a career-best 24th rank in September.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist P Kashyap, however, continued to be India`s highest-ranked player in men`s singles and he reached a career-best ranking of 20 early in the year before tumbling down. He is currently ranked 25th.
The year 2011 also proved fruitful for youngsters with women`s singles players PV Sindhu and Arundhati Pantawane and men`s singles player Sourabh Verma putting up some stupendous performances. The 16-year-old Sindhu started the year ranked 151 and is currently 42nd. She won the Maldives International Challenge, Victor Indonesia International Challenge and the Swiss International. She also cliched the Dutch Open title and was on course for another title when she beat Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand in semis before settling for the runner-sup.
Arundhati too started the year well, finishing second in the Nationals before ending runners-up at the Czech International and Estonian International. She also reached the semifinals of the Polish International Championships in April.Sourabh Varma in his first year in the senior circuit, also made an upward journey, reaching the 70th spot after starting the year at the 243rd spot. The young prodigy from Madhya Pradesh won the Bahrain International Challenge, beside reaching the quarters at the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold, India Open Superseries and Tata Open India International Challenge. While the youngsters made their mark,
Saina failed to touch the towering standards that she set for herself last year even though she still is at a creditable world number four position in ranking. Saina was troubled by an ankle injury, which she suffered during the Hong Kong Open last year, during the early part of the season as she crashed out of the Korea Open in the second round. She was then sent packing by Japanese Sayaka Sato in the quarterfinals of the All England Super Series Premier by Eriko Hirose of Japan in March. A week later, Saina avenged her loss against Hirose while going on to win the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold — her only title of the year 2011.