Badminton
Need to wait & see if next generation after Sindhu & Saina is ready: Aparna Popat

Need to wait & see if next generation after Sindhu & Saina is ready: Aparna Popat

The only answer to 'who next after Saina and Sindhu' might not exist, but what's certain is India will have to wait.

For a generation of fans who have seen Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu dominate for 10 years and more, winning tournaments left, right, and centre, they wouldn’t know the struggle of making it to the top of the world and then sustaining it for a prolonged period. That was the time when women’s singles in India only meant these two players, and rightly so. There isn’t a trophy in the world, that’s not in their cabinet. But the times are a bit different now, and in the last two years, both these fine ladies, are on a certain decline.

And now an immediate void is felt. Despite having a few talented women’s singles shuttlers on the roster, they’re not in the same league. One understands that India was lucky to have seen Saina and Sindhu together, but the difference seems to be rather humongous. Big boots to fill, yes, but to even enter competitions, is a bit of a task for now.

The India Open 2024 is less than a month away, and the draw, for the very first time, won’t feature any women’s singles player from the host country. It’s as sad as it’s embarrassing. But then who is to blame? Perhaps, no one. It’s just the case where these two players never really let anyone come close to them, with their performances, hence the disparity. And now, we just have to wait for the next chain to be ready.

Former nine-time national champion, and the biggest Indian player in the era before Saina & Sindhu, Aparna Popat spoke candidly about the need to wait for the next line of players to be match-ready. Earlier, women’s singles was sort of a promised event for us, without much worry. But in hindsight, two things have happened in the Saina-Sindhu era,” Aparna told InsideSport.

“One is that we just became way too comfortable, and then there wasn’t much space for others to break into. It was complete dominance by them, and it augured well for us too. When you have two at the top, you never think of a scenario, where there won’t be anyone else.”

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Aparna, who has been part of the system for the longest time now, feels that the next generation of players, whoever it is, can’t be fast-tracked, and talent notwithstanding, will have to be judged based on how ready they are. And If they’re not, how can be groomed in the years to come.

‘We need to look at players who are ready. We need the next battery immediately. Yeah, we have Sindhu still but the next ones in the chain, we need to see if the likes of Aakarshi Kashyap, Malvika Bansod, or even Unnati Hooda are ready or not. If we feel that these girls are semi-ready, then do we actually look at them as prospects and put efforts behind them? We are struggling to identify those girls for us,” she added.

The system, the coaches, the support staff, family, all have a huge role to play. But then, it is these girls who will really have to step on the gas and get themselves noticed. A classic example is Sindhu, who at 16, beat Li Xuerui in the quarters of the China Open after the latter had won gold at the 2012 Olympics. While every player cannot be like her, but they really need to stand out.

“So it’s really up to the athletes themselves to stand up and get noticed. So once you’re better than the rest of the competition in India, then you automatically become the next go-to athlete to take on the world. I mean, there’s still a lot of work to be done with the next line, but we should be looking at their development graph and not the performance graph.”

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Need to wait & see if next generation after Sindhu & Saina is ready: Aparna Popat

Paris 2024 Olympics & PV Sindhu

We are just months away from the Paris Olympics, and in all likelihood, Sindhu will make the cut. For her to make it to the medal rounds, could be a tall task, but Aparna doesn’t want to set any expectations already.

“I don’t want to lay down any targets. I just hope she doesn’t bring any pressure on the court. There’s a lot that’s happened for her in the last few years. And I hope she keeps all that aside. Really want to see her attacking brand of badminton, for which she’s known,” Aparna concluded.

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