Asian Games 2018: India rely heavily on PV Sindhu for medal; Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy have mountain to climb
Gone are the days of Chinese domination in badminton as India pin hopes on PV Sindhu for a medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta. Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy too have an outside chance.
All eyes will be on the strong Indian badminton contingent as they take on Asia’s best bets inside Jakarta’s noisy Gelora Bung Karno Sports Palace at the 18th edition of the Asian Games, starting from 18 August.
Despite boasting the likes of Prakash Padukone, Syed Modi, Pullela Gopichand, and, in more recent times, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and doubles veteran Ashwini Ponnappa, it is surprising that India has never won a silver medal at the Asian Games, let alone a gold.
In the previous editions, Indian shuttlers have managed to win eight bronze medals, with the richest haul coming in the 1982 Asiad in New Delhi with five medals — three in individual categories and two in team events.
The 18th edition of the Asian Games, however, presents Indian shuttlers with the best opportunity of breaking this long-standing hoodoo. However, their recent performances state the otherwise. The current crop of Indian shuttlers is under scrutiny for their recent performances at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour events.
Having exceeded expectations last year — where India bagged more Superseries titles than Asian powerhouse China — the shuttlers are yet to ruffle feathers on the international circuit.
Out of the Gopichand clan, only Sindhu has managed to surge ahead on the back of some splendid displays at prestigious events, including the just-concluded World Badminton Championships in Nanjing. The singles unit comprising Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth and doubles shuttlers Ponnappa, Sikki Reddy, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have either been inconsistent or off-colour in the last few months.
It was only at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year, where the Indian team floored opponents to claim multiple medals. Not to forget, the Indians were hardly stretched until the final day of the event.
Despite the patchy displays, India's chief badminton coach Gopichand said India is a medal contender in each and every category in Jakarta. The coach also termed India's potential to win a medal in each and every category of the badminton event as a ‘rare’ occasion.
"We hope that we come back with medals and we have moments to celebrate. We go in with a chance in every event and very rarely this happened with the Indian team. We hope that we do well at the Games although this been a tough year for us," Gopichand told reporters at the official send-off ceremony in Hyderabad.
In Jakarta, India’s hopes of winning a medal will be pinned on Sindhu, whose performances have been a little more consistent than the Chinese and the Japanese women’s singles shuttlers. Despite losing the World Championships final to Carolina Marin in straight games, one cannot but admire the consistency that she exhibited in Nanjing.
To begin with, the 23-year-old didn’t drop a single game until the title clash. On her way to the final, Sindhu floored some of Asia’s best — Sung Ji Hyun (Korea) in the pre-quarters, Nozomi Okuhara (Japan) in the quarters, and Akane Yamaguchi (Japan) in the semis — all in straight games. “There are a lot of positives take from the tournament and that’s what I want Sindhu to focus on,” Gopichand told reporters after returning from Nanjing.
The time to prepare for the quadrennial event could be an issue, but Sindhu is hopeful about India’s chances of bagging medals. In Incheon, India managed to win just the one bronze from the women’s team event. ‘It’s going to be very different because we have team events and also the individuals, but this time we expect to do better than last time,” Sindhu said.
On the other hand, Nehwal — who has been very selective of late, participating in fewer tournaments than Sindhu — is getting back to full fitness. The new season has witnessed flashes of brilliance from the 28-year-old veteran, including impressive wins over some of the higher-ranked shuttlers, but she appears to run short of stamina in the dying stages of the matches. She won her second gold medal at the Commonwealth Games after flooring compatriot Sindhu in the title clash. The 2008 Beijing bronze medallist is confident of scripting a similar success story in Jakarta.
"All of us have prepared really hard. Last time (previous Asian Games), it was special for Indian women's team as we won bronze and I hope this time we can try our level best to even better it. This time also we will do well like we did in the Commonwealth Games," said Saina, who will contest her third Asian Games tournament. Sindhu and Nehwal have the backing of the rookies Ashmita Chaliha, Rutaparna Panda, Aarthi Sara Sunil, Aakarshi Kashyap and Gayathri Gopichand.
Meanwhile, knowing that the cream of men's singles shuttlers is from Asia, Srikanth, Prannoy and Sai Praneeth will have to buckle up to finish on the podium. Srikanth, who won four Superseries titles last year, hasn't been able to repeat his awe-inspiring winning streak since suffering an ankle injury in November 2017. After a series of disappointing outings, Srikanth finally roared back to clinch silver at the Commonwealth Games this year.
Prannoy, known for his giant-killing spree, too has been quiet this year. The Kunnur-born shuttler was left frustrated with a foot corn in January, where he couldn’t recover properly due to doctor's negligence that resulted in his unsuccessful treatment. He couldn’t play for nearly two months as he finally made a comeback at the All England Open in March. A semi-final appearance at the Badminton Asia Championships is Prannoy’s only achievement thus far this season.
— Kidambi Srikanth (@srikidambi) August 15, 2018
His compatriot, Praneeth has had a torrid 2018, facing first-round exits at the All England, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand Open. The wrist wizardry and strokeplay have not troubled his opponents the way it did last year. The Verma brothers — Sameer and Sourabh — will support the top Indian trio in the men’s singles department.
In the team event, India have managed to win eight bronze, out of which three were won by the men's team. However, doubles has always been the team's weakness. But the 18th edition of the Asian Games could well see a drastic change with the likes of the explosive duo of Rankireddy and Shetty. The young pair has the potential to tame the toughest of opponents and could prove pivotal to India's hopes of earning a medal in this discipline. B Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri could prove to be the dark horses in Jakarta.
Apart from Sindhu, India will bank heavily on the Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy combination. There have been notable improvements to their game in 2018. All they need is a decent draw and the chances of claiming a medal do not appear far-fetched.
Gone are the days of Chinese domination in the singles department but it would be criminal to write them off. The new-look Japanese and the ever-resilient Korean team possess a huge threat to the Indian aces.
The badminton events begin on the 19 August with the preliminary rounds of the men’s and women’s team events, while the individual events begin from the 23 August.
Men’s: Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, Manu Attri, B Sumeeth Reddy, Pranav Chopra, Sourabh Verma
Women’s: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Ashwini Ponnappa, N Sikki Reddy, Chukka Sai Uttejitha Rao, Ashmita Chaliha, Rutaparna Panda, Arathi Sara Sunil, Aakarshi Kashyap, Gayatri Gopichand
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