By C. Rajshekhar Rao
AP Sports Writer
NEW DELHI (AP) — It’s not cricket. But that hasn’t stopped the Indian media and sports fraternity marveling at a performance few people thought they’d ever see.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi even joined in the praise for badminton players Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal after their victories at the China Open super series event on Sunday.
The 21-year-old Srikanth pulled off a surprising 21-19, 21-17 win over two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan in the men’s final, becoming only the third player to beat the Chinese great since the 2012 Olympics.
Olympic bronze medalist Nehwal defeated Japan’s world junior champion Akane Yamaguchi 21-12, 22-20 for the women’s title.
“A wonderful day for Indian badminton! Congrats to Saina Nehwal and K. Srikanth for the victories,” Modi said in a message from Australia, where he attended the G-20 summit in Brisbane over the weekend.
In the media, badminton hogged the kind of attention generally reserved to cricket.
The Hindu newspaper ran the front page headline: “Srikanth, Saina conquer China.”
The Hindustan Times was just as lavish in its praise, headlining its reports with “Srikanth stuns Super Dan” and “Saina doubles the joy.”
Srikanth’s coach Pullela Gopichand, who won the all-England championship in 2001, said the win was “sensational.”
“It stands out among the best performances by Indian players as it was also a high-quality match,” said Gopichand, who has also coached Nehwal in the past. “We have a very talented bunch of players who have been doing well consistently and we can expect more such results.”
Indian television channels and radio stations highlighted the badminton wins while social media was abuzz with reaction from athletes including cricket stars Anil Kumble and Bishan Bedi.
“Congrats Srikanth for winning China open!!! Well done!!” Kumble tweeted, while Bedi posted about the “Gr8 Sunday” for Indian badminton.
“What a day for Indian Badminton. Saina and Srikanth win the China open! Few would’ve imagined watching an Indian beat Lin Dan in China!” former India field hockey captain Viren Resquinha tweeted. (end)