A decade ago, India had no Olympic medals, one World Championship medal and just one Superseries title to its name. Today, Indian badminton is in a very different place.
One of the keys to this transformation is Pullela Gopichand. Since his appointment as the national coach in 2006, followed by the launch of his academy in 2008, Gopichand has, with his foresight and supernova instincts, played a major role in the rise of the biggest names of the sport today - from Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu to Kidambi Srikanth and B Sai Praneeth.
Robin Hood? Maybe. Super
man coach? Definitely. That's why he, almost unanimously, is ESPN India's Coach of the Decade.
Here are some stats that highlight the kind of difference Gopichand has made in the past decade:
Currently, eight Indian men's singles players are in the top 50 of the BWF world rankings - the highest tally in history for the event. Of these eight, six - Praneeth, Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, Sameer Verma, HS Prannoy and Sourabh Verma - train at the Gopichand Badminton Academy.
Believe it or not, Sindhu finished second-best in her seven previous final appearances before breaking the jinx with gold at the 2018 BWF World Tour Finals.
Of the nine World Championships medals won by Indians since 2010, six medals have come from players who were training at the Gopichand Academy. While Sindhu won gold in 2019, two silvers in 2018 and 2017, and two bronzes in 2014 and 2013, Sai Praneeth won bronze in 2019.
Sindhu's love affair with the World Championships began in 2013. Having medalled at every edition since, with the exception of 2015, her five medals are the most by a women's singles player this decade. China's Zhang Ning is the only other women's player with five singles medals at the World Championships.
So far, four Indians have won Superseries titles under Gopichand. While six out of Saina's nine titles since 2010 have come under Gopichand, Srikanth has won six titles, Sindhu three and Praneeth one - all under Gopichand's tutelage.
Also 4: In 2017, Srikanth won four Superseries titles to become only the fourth man ever to do so in a calendar year, joining the legendary trio of Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long.
As many as three Indians have made the top three in the world rankings over the past decade. Saina and Srikanth reached a career-high of World No. 1, while Sindhu attained a best ranking of No. 2.
Side note: Saina's ranking of No. 1 came under her former coach Vimal Kumar. Her best ranking under Gopichand was World No. 2.
From no medals at the start of the decade, India's Olympic medal count has gone to two over the last two editions. The first - a bronze - came in 2012 when Saina Nehwal, after narrowly missing out on a medal in 2008, emerged victorious against China's Wang Xin in the bronze medal match after the latter retired due to an injury. In 2016, Sindhu won silver to become the first Indian woman, and the youngest Indian ever, to achieve the feat.
Also 2: At the Uber Cup, where India had never won a medal since its inception in 1957, the women's team punched above their weight to secure two bronze medals, in 2014 and 2016.
India's impressive decade in badminton circuit saw a fitting end as Sindhu became the country's first World Champion. She defeated Japan's Nozomi Okuhara to win the long-elusive World Championships gold in 2019.
Also 1: Sindhu became the first Indian to win the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals in 2018. Saina had earlier made the final of the tournament in 2011, becoming the first Indian singles player to do so, but had to settled for the runners-up trophy after losing to then World No. 1 Wang Yihan.
Kashyap won the men's singles title at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to seal India's first gold in the men's singles event in 32 years. He became only the third Indian man to win the title after Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi.
Praneeth ended India's 36-year medal drought in men's singles at the World Championships by winning a bronze medal in 2019. He defeated the likes of Indonesia's Anthony Ginting and Asian Games gold medallist Jonathan Christie to secure a spot in the semi-finals, thereby assuring himself of a bronze.
At the end of it all, what remains the biggest achievement throughout this decade - more than the numbers and medals - are the pupils Gopichand has produced. It's nothing but exemplary that all of India's Olympics and Worlds medallists in singles so far hail from Gopichand's academy.
After starting the decade with close to nothing but a footnote in history, Indian badminton has risen dramatically over the past 10 years. With the horizons wider and possibilities endless, the coming decade looks more promising than ever before.