Most people know about the Indian badminton players who have won the All England Championships. They are also likely to remember Indian badminton medallists in World Championships and Olympics. But it would be a very tough question to ask someone, who was the last and only Indian to win the Badminton Asia Championships?
For the answer, you would have to go to an era even before that of Prakash Padukone. It was in 1965 that Dinesh Khanna became the Asian Champion by triumphing in this event. Since then, many great badminton players have come and gone but a gold medal in this prestigious, if sometimes overshadowed the event, remains elusive for India.
As the 2019 edition kicks off on April 23, can we expect the drought to be broken this time? Last year, HS Prannoy and Saina Nehwal claimed Bronze in their respective categories. This year, both Saina and PV Sindhu will be competing, not just to end India's 54-year long wait but also to regain some form.
Sindhu is enduring a terrible year and after some disappointing results, have faced questions about her focus and dedication to the game. Saina started the year on a good note by winning Indonesia Masters – albeit with a walkover in the final against Carolina Marin – and retaining her Nationals crown. But she too has subsequently not produced the kind of results her fans would have hoped for.
Going by present form, the chances are not bright for India. But there is some hope. Defending champion and the best player in women's singles circuit right now, Tai Tzu Ying, has withdrawn from the event. The biggest obstacle in the Indian ladies' way to the title is out. But there still remain other formidable foes.
Chen Yufei, the fastest rising Chinese player, who defeated Tai Tzu Ying in the finals of All England Championships earlier this year, is in the fray. So are the two Japanese girls constantly featuring in the last-four of big events – Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi. They would be joined by Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon – always a threat – and China's other prominent player HE Bingjiao.
Unfortunately for Sindhu, if she gets through the initial rounds, the quarterfinals could see her facing Sung Ji Hyun of South Korea. The latter hasn't won a big title in a long time but was responsible for knocking out Sindhu in the 1st round of All England Open and the 2nd round of Malaysian Open. Saina would face her first big challenge in the quarterfinals also, in the form of Yamaguchi, a consistent performer.
So, the road is tough for the two Indian badminton queens. But let us remember that in the past, Sindhu has shown the ability to raise her performance dramatically in big events. Though she only has a bronze in Asian Championships so far, this could be the tournament where her fortunes turn around. As for Saina, her form is better than what her results indicate. A little more luck and effort could see her earning another medal, to go along with three bronzes, at this prestigious event.
In the men's category, there are just two representatives of India – Kidambi Srikanth and Sameer Verma. With a field containing the likes of Kento Momota, Shi Yuqi and Chen Long, it is going to be extremely hard for either to get to semis. Prospects for India don't look good. But Sindhu's mercurial form and Saina's latent quality might just bring joy to Indian fans.