The Popov brothers are here, Team India be wary

At the 2000 Summer Olympics, young Mikhail Popov, representing Bulgaria, lost in the second round of the men’s singles badminton event. That second-round entry came from a bye in the first before being decimated 0:15, 4:15 by Fung Permadi of Chinese Taipei in the next round.

Later in his career, Popov represented France for a few years before hanging up his boots in 2007 without showing much apart from a couple of national titles under his belt.

Bulgaria, or France for that matter, is not the traditional powerhouse in badminton and the players are not considered half as good as their counterparts from other European nations. But Popov might have done just enough in his career to leave the next generation of players from France with a small legacy to build on. Even today, the nation is not known for the sport of racquets, but it does have some names that can challenge the best players in the world.

Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue are the 11th best pair in the world today in mixed doubles, while Emilie Lefel and Anne Tran are 29th in women’s doubles. In the women’s category, Qi Xuefei, ranked 44, recently beat Malvika Bansod from India at the Swiss Open. But undoubtedly her best bet, at least for now, is in men’s singles with Toma Junior Popov and Christo Popov continuing their uncle Mikhail’s legacy or perhaps starting one of their own.

The duo play both men’s doubles and singles and become mighty good players in both categories. Their current standings, 30 in doubles and 28 (Toma) & 55 (Christo) might not give a good idea of ​​where they stand, but the players who have beaten them in the last few tournaments might do. Recent Orleans Masters winner Toma has beaten Misha Zilberman, Ireland’s Nhat Nguyen, P Kashyap. Kidambi Srikanthand Kunlavut Vitidsarn. Not to mention, he also has a Super 300 title, Spain Masters, to his name.

On the other hand, the younger Christo has the World Championship B bronze medalist in his burgeoning career Sai Praneeth, Koki Watanbe and Olympic medalist Anthony Ginting. Not to forget, he is a silver medalist at the 2019 BWF World Junior Championships, losing only in the final to Thai Vitidsarn. the first from his country to accomplish the feat. As a couple, they surprised everyone and reached the quarterfinals of the Denmark open in 2020.

The duo, for those who follow the sport avidly, would know that relying heavily on deception and fast cross-court rallies is their forte. Her style of play may remind fans of her at times Caroline Marin at their best; Of course, a lot still needs to be done to reach this level, but the raw talent is there for all to see. Perhaps this could be one of the reasons why the French Badminton Federation signed Fernando Rivas, Marin’s longtime coach, with the Paris 2024 Olympics in mind. If Rivas could pull off even half the magic he did with Marin, these guys could be well on their way to becoming world champions and beyond.

“I come with my very high level of experience and I will provide a framework using a method that has already proven itself,” Rivas had said upon his appointment, and if his words are to be taken seriously, alarm bells could be ringing around the world, especially India . While the competition among the top badminton nations in men’s singles is mostly at the same level, these boys from France could pose an immediate threat to the Indian boys, except perhaps for someone of the caliber of Lakshya Sen, who just finished second All England Open. Taking a closer look at the Indian singles shuttles, only Sen looks untouchable at the moment while the others look vulnerable despite their results.

So we have 16 players in the world top 100 and of those the promising ones have been inconsistent to say the least and just don’t show the confidence to maintain their current rankings. Srikanth, HS Pannoy, Sameer Verma, and Sai Praneeth lack match fitness any day, while the newer ones – Kiran George and Mithun Manjunath – look set to take a long time to reach the top. In short, the Popov brothers, either Toma Jr. or Christo, can beat these Indian men like they have in the past.

2022 would mark the first time the Popov brothers would be tested among the world’s top shuttles for a full calendar year, and so far the signs have been encouraging. Yes, of course they could be better than some of the Indian boys and many Indian fans would hate to believe it, but maybe in their heart they would know that the Popovs are something special.

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