The first major international badminton event of 2014 was the US $ 600,000 BWF Korea Open Super Series in Seoul, played during January 7-12, 2014. The Badminton Federation of India literally chose to ignore this event, with participation in only three fixtures. Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold winner Kidambi Srikanth and RMV Gurusaidutt played in the Men’s Singles, the Commonwealth Games gold medal winning pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa participated in the women’s doubles and Ponnappa and Tarun Kona took part in the mixed doubles. Ajay Jayaram, another possible contender from India, pulled out at the last minute. However, both Srikanth and Gurusaidutt disappointedly lost in their first round matches. Srikanth went down without any fight to the fifth seeded Japanese Kenichi Tago 10-21, 11-21, in just 36 minutes and his compatriot Gurusaidutt surrendered in 34 minutes to another Japanese, world no. 15, Takuma Ueda 11-21, 11-21. Gutta and Ponnappa, who made a grand start by winning their first round match, lost in the second round to the third seeded Korean pair of Ye Na Jang and So Young Kim, 18-21, 12-21. In the same fashion, after showing promise in the first round, Ponnappa and Kona lost their mixed doubles second round match, 10-21, 15-21 to the seventh seeded German pair of Michael Fuchs and Birgit Michels. While Indian stars did nothing of substance, China dominated the year’s first Major badminton Superseries tournament, winning every title, except the Men’s doubles as the Danish pair of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen prevented the Chinese clean sweep by beating Fu Haifeng and Hong Wei of China 21-12, 21-17. Another setback of the Korean event was the defeat of Malaysia’s world no.1 men’s player Lee Chong Wei, who lost in the final to the Chinese Chen Long 14-21, 15-21.
The second BWF Super Series Tournament, US $ 600,000 Malaysian Open, was played in Bukit Jalil, near Kualalumpur during January 14-19. Indian shuttlers participated in all the events but they miserably failed to exhibit satisfactory performance. India’s ace players, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and P Kashyap could not progress beyond the second round. The only creditable performance came from K Srikanth, who reached the quarterfinal stage, where he lost to Indonesia’s world no. 4 Tommy Sugiarto.
But in the third badminton major and year’s first BWF Grand Prix Gold, played at Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium in Lucknow during January 21-26, 2014, Indian players put up a reasonably good show. Saina Nehwal emerged the winner in the women’s singles tournament, beating compatriot PV Sindhu with commanding ease. After a title drought all through 2013, it was a morale-boosting win for Saina. Her last major title was the Denmark Open, 15 months ago in October 2012. In Sunday’s match against the fast-improving Sindhu, Saina finished the match in her favor, 21-14, 21-17 in just 40 minutes. Another Indian, who reached the final in the Indian Grand Prix Gold was K. Srikanth in the men’s singles. In the final however, Srikanth lost to the Chinese world no. 50, Song Xue, in a closely fought match, 21-16, 19-21, 13.21. Srikanth had won the first game easily and he was leading 19-12 in the second, when the Xue found hidden reserves and won nine points in a row. That took the match to the decider, where the Chinese completely outplayed Srikanth. Saina was also a lucky winner in her semifinal match against China’s Deng Xuan. She trailed all through the match but her tenacious play for 80 minutes finally clinched the match for her, 21-14 17-21 21-19. Other than Saina, all other finals were won by the great Chinese badminton machine, just as they had done at Korea. In Malaysian Super Series too, the Chinese had won three out of five titles.
Saina Nehwal has dropped to the 9th place in the BWF rankings, but her victory at the Indian Grand Prix should work as catalyst in several major tournaments, the 2014 schedules for which has already been announced by the BWF. Sindhu, Kashyap and Srikanth are other Indian stars, who have improved their game lately, and 2014 bodes well for them too.