Calcutta/ Mumbai: On an individual level, Indian sport has hardly seen many rivalries. One such, in fairly recent times, was the ‘rivalry’ between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
Both Sourav and Dravid made their debut in the same Test — Lord’s 1996. While Sourav scored 131, Dravid fell short of the three-figure mark by five runs. Their ‘rivalry’ took off immediately.
With P.V. Sindhu’s bronze in the recent World Badminton Championship, an exciting ‘rivalry’ with the more seasoned headline-maker Saina Nehwal, has become a distinct possibility.
Hyderabad Hotshots’ Saina did, of course, blow the Awadhe Warriors shuttler off the court when the two Hyderabadis crossed swords during the league stage of the Indian Badminton League (IBL).
On Saturday, in the grand finale, Sindhu will get a chance to make amends.
Sindhu has the height and that gives her a superior reach, while Saina is faster and much more fitter. It’s a clash of contrasting styles.
Chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand said it would be a clash of style and power between two cerebral players when the two lock horns in the final on Saturday.
Gopichand, who is credited for the rise of both Saina and Sindhu, said the duo should not be looked as rivals but as a pair, who can help Indian badminton reach new heights.
“It should always be Saina and Sindhu rather than who among the two is better. As a combination, as a pair, both of them can exchange notes at the end of each match.
“Both of them can benefit from each other’s experience and it is a big positive for Indian badminton,” Gopichand explained.
“Overall, it is a good for Indian badminton that we have two players in the top 10 and both of them competing is much better for Indian badminton than one player playing.”
Talking about the Saina-Sindhu match, the former All England champion said: “It will be very interesting from their perspective... It will be a clash of brains, it will be a clash of style and it will be a clash of physical power to power exchanges and the mindset as well... It will be an interesting challenge.
“Both are young... We wish they would go on to play for a long time for the country. It will be a good match (Saturday). Saina is at a different level. She has been in the top-5 consistently in the last four years.
“Now, for the first time, Sindhu has reached the top 10. Both are at different levels. We will get to see more of their contests in future. Last time Saina beat Sindhu (21-19, 21-8). But it will be a different atmosphere on Saturday as it is the final. I am sure it will be good entertainment for the fans,” he added.
Asked about the healthy competition in men’s singles, Gopichand said it has been a see-saw battle so far and all of these Indian players have the potential to reach the top.
“It has been a see-saw battle. We have had some very good performances from (Parupalli) Kashyap in the past. In this tournament, Ajay Jayaram and K. Srikanth have done really well. We have had some good performances from Sai Praneeth as well.
“Guru (Sai Dutt) has been impressive in patches. Overall, the spot is still a grey area. All of them have the potential to reach the top level in the world and that is what they have shown in this tournament,” he said.
On Srikanth’s impressive performance in the IBL, he said: “We saw him play some fantastic matches. The attitude which he brings on court, the belief and the aggression is a treat to watch.
“It looked like he could take pressure and deliver when it mattered.”
Age: 18 years
Glittering moments: Bronze medal at 2013 World Championships at Guangzhou (China); Winner at Malaysian GP 2013.
Career: BWF Title: 1
Pusarla Venkata Sindhu burst forth as a national sporting hero when she won the bronze medal at the World Championships this year at Guangzhou in China, putting India on the podium when a more fancied Saina failed.
What made her success even more important was the fact that she defeated defending champion and second seed Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian — both from China — on her way to bronze.
Coming from the same stable as Saina – the Gopichand Academy – Sindhu too has the aggression and focus needed to excel in the international stage.
Ranked 10th in the world now, the youngster has made her presence felt in the ongoing IBL, guiding her team Awadhe Warriors to the final. Being the icon player of her team, she has a lot to prove.
In the league round, she lost to Saina. In the final, it will again be a clash of the titans and Sindhu will definitely want to go home with equal honours.
Age: 23 years
Glittering moments: Bronze medal at 2012 London Olympics; Gold at 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games
Career: BWF Titles: 11; Asian Satellite: 2
Saina Nehwal’s career highlight may be the bronze medal she won at the London Olympics, when she became the first Indian to finish on the podium in the Games. But the real contribution that the 23-year-old has made to Indian badminton is to bring back the nation’s attention to the game.
Saina has honed her skills at the Gopichand Academy at Gachibowli in Hyderabad, and her early struggles have almost become stuff of legends.
A half-asleep child pillion riding on her father’s bike in the wee hours of the morning, travelling for hours to reach the academy — that is the endearing image of a young Saina.
Her mode of travel has changed with her success — she was gifted a BMW after the Olympics which was handed over to her by Sachin Tendulkar. At the inaugural Indian Badminton League, Saina has played her role of icon player for the Hyderabad Hotshots to perfection.