It was an epic final at badminton’s biggest stage, and it stood out as the finest advertisement for the women’s game. Two young title aspirants battled for 110 minutes before the gold at the World Badminton Championships in Glasgow was decided by the narrowest of margins. P.V. Sindhu may not have come out victorious against the eventual champion, Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, but she won more hearts for her gallant display of endurance. In doing so, she further raised the profile of badminton and of women’s sport itself in India. A silver medal for Sindhu and a bronze for Saina Nehwal make this the most rewarding Indian campaign in the premier championship. It was a formidable challenge that they offered going into the Glasgow championships, and both had been seen to be in the reckoning for the gold. That challenge is made sharper by the fact that Nehwal, the silver medallist in 2015, and Sindhu, the bronze medallist in 2013 and 2014, have been engaged in a silent battle of their own. This rivalry is proving to be extremely beneficial for Indian badminton, providing the nucleus for a cluster of excellence that is vital for any sport to flourish. Sindhu’s latest medal, to go with the Rio Olympics silver last year, has clearly taken her past Nehwal in terms of achievement in badminton’s two premier competitions — the Olympics and the World Championships. Given Nehwal’s famed never-say-die credo, she is sure to try to reclaim her status. She had carried an injury to Rio and returned for an unavoidable knee surgery, and makes it a point to remind everyone that her recovery is still incomplete, and that she would be back at her best in upcoming competitions.
There is, in fact, potential for further improvement in the women’s game. This past week, both Sindhu and Nehwal were tamed by the far-fitter Okuhara. The Japanese shuttler rallied from a game down to stop Nehwal in the semi-final, and her resurgence from 17-19 in the deciding game ended Sindhu’s quest for the title. This explains why Nehwal and Sindhu dwelled regretfully on missed opportunities instead of celebrating their unprecedented show of strength on the finals podium. Interestingly, the two women are very different personalities. If Nehwal is driven by a wounded pride to establish her credentials, Sindhu, at just 22, is a sunny character looking to make the most of the time on her side, and both owe a lot to their respective coaches, U. Vimal Kumar and Pullela Gopi Chand. Yet, their combined achievements also bring into focus the fact that the next best woman shuttler in India is nowhere close to them in potential. Their heroics will, hopefully, in time draw more talent to the sport, but currently the lack of other women badminton players in their class deprives India of a fighting chance at team titles. For now, however, it is time to celebrate these two exceptional women who have enriched the game.