http://www.sportstaronnet.com/tss2501/25010670.htm SHUTTLE TALK -- Prakash Padukone Column Indian badminton on the upswing THE year 2001 will go down in the history of Indian badminton as a glorious one for it was in March 2001 that reigning Indian National champion Pullela Gopi Chand crowned himself with glory by wining the prestigious All-England title in Birmingham, England. His victory was achieved against all odds as this also happened to be his first ever Grand Prix title. In other words he had never won a major Grand Prix title prior to this. Therefore this win brought a lot of joy and happiness to millions of his fans in the country and made him a star overnight. He fully deserved the success and the adulation he received as Gopi had really worked hard for this victory. He had worked with a single minded devotion and made a lot of sacrifices. This win also put Indian badminton back on the International map after nearly two decades. It is hoped that this resurgence will continue for a few more years at least. However, Gopi was not able to maintain the same form in the subsequent months. This could be attributed to a number of reasons. Firstly it is natural for any player to feel the pressure once he reaches the top and Gopi is going through that phase. People will expect him to win every tournament he plays which is not possible. Secondly the competition at the top is so stiff that there is very little to chose between the top 8-10 players of the world. The gap between them is so narrow that a different winner emerges in every tournament. In the recent past no single player has been able to dominate World badminton including players of the calibre of Peter Gade, Taufik Hidayat, Hendrawan, etc. Gopi is also in a similar situation. Thirdly the new scoring system introduced by the International Badminton Federation (IBF) from July 2001 made matters worse for the top players to perform consistently as it is comparatively easier for unseeded players to upset ranked players in the new 7-point format. But it is to be said to Gopi's credit that he has still managed to remain in the top 10 bracket of the World rankings which is indeed laudable. The other major event which followed All England this year was the World Championships in Seville, Spain in May where Gopi could make it only till the quarterfinals before losing to Chen Hong of China. Hendrawan of Indonesia emerged as the new World champion in this edition. Like Gopi's unexpected victory in the All England, Hendrawan too emerged a surprise winner in the Seville meet. In fact no one was expecting Hendrawan to win this coveted title for there were many other serious contenders for the crown. Even his performance in the Sudirman Cup - symbol of supremacy in the world mixed team event - which was played just a week prior to the individual events was quite disappointing. It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise that Hendrawan was able to pull it off in the end. However even he has found the going tough and has not won a single tournament since then. It remains to be seen whether the Indonesian star will be able to regain his form in the near future. Another significant thing to have happened to International badminton in the last 50 years was the introduction of the new scoring system. Even though there were many attempts in the past, specially in Europe, to make the game shorter with a view to commercially exploit the game, the experiments were left optional for the organisers and were not introduced in the major tournaments around the world. But this time IBF took a bold step and made it compulsory for the organisers of all Grand Prix tournaments to adopt the new scoring system. This meant that the game would now be played for 7 points instead of 15 but over best of five games instead of best of three. This experimental scoring system would, however, be in operation only for a period of one year i.e. till June 30 2002. The same would be reviewed at the Annual General Meeting of IBF in May 2002 in China where a decision will be taken by the member associations whether to continue with the new scoring pattern or not. The indications are that they are likely to revert to the old format since there have been many objections to the new format. It might be pertinent to know the reasons why IBF thought of bringing these changes. It was felt that the old format took too long to complete and there were not enough breaks between the games to exploit the game commercially on television. Whether these changes will bring in the required revenue from sponsors and TV rights for the IBF remains to be seen. Coming back to the Indian scene, apart from Gopi there have been some other encouraging performances from the Indian players. The most promising among them is Chetan Anand, a 21-year-old engineering student from Vijayawada and a student of Bhaskar Babu who has produced several national level players. Chetan's best performance was in the Dutch Open at Eindhoven in October this year where he managed to reach the semifinals in the men's singles after some good victories over more established stars. There is no doubt that at the moment he is the most talented player on view. However he needs to be more consistent at the International level to draw further attention from the critics. To do this he has to plan his itinerary a little more carefully and play in select tournaments only. Last year he seemed to have played too many tournaments without proper planning which affected his performance. He also won his maiden International title in Bangalore in August when he emerged victorious in the BPL Asian Satellite Championships. Though it was not a Grand Prix tournament, nevertheless it was an important win for Chetan for there were reasonably good players from Thailand, Malaysia, England, Hong Kong, etc. Nikhil Kanetkar did well to reach the finals of the Scottish Open towards the end of the year after a long lay off due to sickness. He has the potential to do better. Abhinn Shyam Gupta has not been able to produce any worthwhile result after his triumph in the French Open in March. Like most other Indians he is also struggling to come to terms with the new scoring system. On the distaff side no player has been able to make a significant mark. Reigning National champion Aparna Popat continues to rule the roost in the domestic circuit followed by B. R. Meenakshi. The only notable victory for Aparna came in the Welsh Open in November when she defeated her long time adversary Kelly Morgan of Wales for the first time. However she could not continue her good form and went down in the semifinals to the Dutch opponent Bendra Beenhakar. Meenakshi too had one or two reasonably good victories in the European circuit but has a long way to go. But it is not all gloomy for there is some talent in the junior ranks amongst girls as well. Most notable amongst them are Jwala Gutta and Shruti Kurian who have already played for India in the Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup. Apart from them there are two other youngsters who have shown a lot of promise - Krishan Deka Raja and Aditi Mutatkar. The fact that these girls made it to the finals of Under-19 event in Bhopal shows their class as both of them are not even 16. One can expect some good performances from them as they gain in experience. One has to make sure that they get enough opportunities to play abroad at a young age so that they can reach their full potential early. On the whole badminton in India is on an upswing. One can hope for some scintillating performances from the Indian shuttlers in the years to come.