A day before the start of the Premier Badminton League in India last week, three of the world best shuttlers – Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin – directed their guns towards the Badminton World Federation. All three had a similar complaint – regarding the heavy scheduling of tournaments in a calendar year. “By reducing the number of tournaments, there is little chance of players getting injured. Why have 20 tournaments a year? They can just do four, five Grand Slams with more money in,” Nehwal, who returned from a career-threatening knee injury last year said. “At this rate, we definitely can’t give our best or be at the highest level all the time. I would say that we should have limited tournaments and prepare well,” Sindhu added.
Olympic gold medallist Marin went a step further and said that the tournament scheduling is not “professional”. “If you want to be professional, they cannot do this to the players. Right now they are forcing players to play so many tournaments and we are getting injured,” she said.
The heavy jam-packed scheduling of badminton became a major focus from the start of 2018 and remained so till the end of the year.
The BWF, at the end of 2017 season, had announced a new badminton tournament structure that required players to participate in more events for higher prize money. The new tour series – featuring six levels kicked off this year, with at least a million dollars price up for grabs in the top four events, which will run till 2021.
Immediately, after the announcement, several top shuttlers around the world, including World No. 1 Viktor Axelsen, Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, and China’s Lin Dan had expressed their concerns in January, with the top players required to take part in at least 12 tournaments in the year.
The impact was clearly visible on all three Indian star shuttlers – Nehwal, Sindhu, and Kidambi Srikanth, who started off the year in prime form and fitness, but slowly started appearing weary, tired and suffered a dip in performances as the year progressed.
PV Sindhu in 2018
For most part of the year, the criticism against Sindhu remained the same – her inability to close out matches on the final day of a tournament. The tag of a “choker” became associated with Sindhu over the past two years and 2018 wasn’t any different. That until, the 23-year-old went on to struck the top podium finish at the BWF World Finals in December to cap off the year in remarkable fashion. The Hyderabad-born shuttler triumphed over Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara 21-17, 21-17 to win the gold. In the week, she also achieved a massive win over World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, who became a thorn in both Nehwal and Sindhu’s path for the most part of the year.
Apart from the gold, Sindhu also won five silver medals at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Championship, India Open and Thailand Open. “The year has ended on a beautiful note. Next year will be an Olympic qualification year and we have to keep ourselves fit and strategise on which tournaments to play,” the shuttler said after securing the yellow metal.
Saina Nehwal in 2018
Nehwal kickstarted her return from the injury with a bronze at the World Championships. She carried on her form into the 2018 and struck the gold medal at Commonwealth Games after an epic clash with Sindhu. Later, she won the bronze medal at the Asian Games, becoming the first Indian female shuttler to bag an Asiad medal.
But as the year progressed, Nehwal suffered a dip in form, and she failed to bag another gold medal. Despite reaching the finals at the Indonesia Open, Denmark Open and Syed Modi International, the 28-year-old had to settle for silver medals. Nehwal’s biggest upset came at the Syed Modi tournament, where the Indian suffered a 21-18, 21-18 defeat at the hands of 19-year-old Chinese shuttler Han Yue in the final.
Kidambi Srikanth in 2018
Kidambi Srikanth has, perhaps, suffered the maximum dip in performances as the year progressed. In April, he had climbed to the top position in the BWF Rankings. But after 8 months, he has gone down to the eighth position in the rankings, after failing to register a podium finish. The 25-year-old, who won four titles in 2017, bagged the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, going down to Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, which remained his only highlight of the year. Due to injury concerns, Srikanth had to pull out of Thailand Open and Syed Modi International.
Among the rising stars of badminton, the 17-year-old Lakshya Sen penned down his name as he went on to clinch gold at the Asian Junior Championships and Tata Open India International this year. The badminton prodigy also won a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games and then followed it up with a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships, respectively.