New Delhi: Saina Nehwal's hard work over the years was rewarded by a perfectly-timed stroke of luck as she clinched a historic bronze medal in the London Olympics to cover new ground for Indian badminton in a mostly successful year. After a rather subdued performance last year, Saina turned 2012 into a milestone year for Indian badminton when she fetched the country's first Olympic medal at the London Games, winning the bronze in August.
In the Olympic year, Saina won two Grand Prix Gold titles - Swiss Open and Thailand Open - besides winning the Indonesia Super Series and Denmark Super Series. She also reached the finals of the French Open. Besides Saina, the other shuttlers such as Parupalli Kashyap, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and V Diju also made it a watershed year for Indian badminton when they qualified to compete in the Olympics - a first for the country.
Kashyap was another bright spot for India as he became the first Indian male shuttler to reach the quarter-finals of an Olympic event since badminton made its entry into the quadrennial event in 1992. Star doubles player, Jwala, also continued her good run and shepherded India to make an entry into Olympics when she along with her women's and mixed doubles partners, Ashwini and Diju respectively, qualified for the Games. But none of the doubles pair could reach the knockout stage in the Olympics.
Saina, as usual, was the brightest name in Indian badminton as she geared up for the Olympics with some stupendous performances early in the year. She first defended her Swiss Open title by defeating then World No. 2 Wang Shixian of China, a day after she turned 22. With the Olympics approaching, the Hyderabadi stepped up her performance and clinched the Thailand Open by defeating local talent Ratchanok in June. A week later, she annexed her third Indonesia Super Series title when she beat Li Xuerui of China.
With Saina in red hot form, the expectations skyrocketed and she didn't disappoint as she continued her rampaging run and won a bronze in the London Games after her rival, China's Wang Xin, retired from the match after an injury. After a break, Saina won another title when she clinched the Denmark Open Super Series Premier crown in October after defeating Wang Yihan in the semi-final and Germany's Juliane Schenk in the final.
Yihan ended retired hurt in this match after losing the first game and trailing in the second. Saina's performance soon saw her regain the third spot in world ranking. But a knee injury suffered in Indonesia, spoilt Saina's performance in the second half of the year as she lost to Japan's Minatsu Mitani in the summit clash to see the French Open title slip away. Saina then exited early from the Hong Kong Super Series, a title she had clinched in 2010.
The 22-year-old Indian also bowed out of the BWF Super Series Final after suffering losses to Thailand's Denmark's Tine Baun, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand and world number one Li Xuerui of China. The year became more turbulent for Saina when she controversially exited from the first round of the Syed Modi India Grand Prix in Lucknow last week after being two-match points ahead, citing a knee problem.
Among the young guns, PV Sindhu was the most promising rising star for India as her performance in the international circuit saw her break into the top 20 in September. Sindhu clinched the prestigious Badminton Asia Youth Under-19 title in July to make heads turn but her biggest victory came in September when she stunned the newly crowned Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the China Masters and reached the semi-finals of the tournament.
The lanky shuttler also reached the semis of the Malaysia Open Grand Prix Gold. But a knee problem, which she sustained in China, saw her lose to Sayali Gokhale in the final of the Senior National championship in Srinagar and after that she skipped the World Junior Badminton Championship in October.