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Asian Games 2018: Lack of depth in women's squad may hurt India's chances in team event, says Aparna Popat

The Indian women’s badminton team was handed a tough draw for the 2018 Asian Games as they were slotted to face top seeds Japan after a first-round bye.

After exceeding expectations at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year, the expectations for medals have soared high. Former badminton player Aparna Popat feels PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal could bag medals in Jakarta, but it’s the inconsistency of women’s field that is worrying.

 Asian Games 2018: Lack of depth in womens squad may hurt Indias chances in team event, says Aparna Popat

PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal in action. Agencies

“If you look at other teams, they are superior to us. Sometimes, teams have good first and second singles players but the third one struggles. With Japan, they have a strong third singles player too, the former nine-time national champion told Firstpost.

The new crop of singles shuttlers haven’t sparkled like Nehwal and Sindhu – the only two players to have claimed Olympic and World Championships medals in the sport – did when they were teenagers.

Ruthvika Shivani Gadde looked set to take the reins from Nehwal and Sindhu, given the form she had hit in the previous year. Notably, at the 2016 South Asian Games, the then 18-year-old floored Sindhu in the final of the women’s singles event. That year she won her maiden Grand Prix crown in Russia. But series of injuries, compounded by a period of illness had rendered her unable to continue in the same vein as she had when she first burst onto the scene.

A similar fate befell Rituparna Das, who was once considered as the rising star alongside Sindhu after Nehwal’s emergence. Despite boasting of fine wristy strokes, her pace has let her down at senior level. Not to forget, like Ruthvika, Das has suffered from multiple injuries since 2017.

“We are not able to nurture the talent to the potential of a Saina or a Sindhu. The other players haven't been consistent too. For the longest period we thought Ruthvika would be the number three, then came Rituparna Das. But they never really clicked due to injuries and form. To become a strong force, we need a consistent number three, four and five. Like how Japan and China have churned out a bunch of top shuttlers,” says Popat.

Apart from the two Hyderabad-based shuttlers, India Junior International title winner Aakarshi Kashyap and national coach Pullela Gopichand’s daughter Gayatri have booked their tickets to Jakarta.  “It's a great opportunity to be out there with the best. This is really the time to make the most of the exposure. Let's just assume that this is our next string of players who will appear in the next edition of the Asian Games. It's always a head start for the young players as they'll know what to expect. These big events are daunting and it'll act as an invaluable experience. It's an advantage,” Popat explains.

Japan, Korea, and Indonesia were all placed in the top half of the draw, while China, Thailand and Chinese Taipei were the strong teams in the bottom half. Defending champions China, Thailand, Japan, Korea and India received first-round byes, which means they will play directly in the quarter-finals.

If the Indian team beats Japan, they will take on either Korea, Indonesia or Hong Kong in the semi-finals.

Much of it will depend on how Saina and Sindhu deliver against the top guns. “If I had a choice, the first team I would have avoided is Japan. I think while Saina and Sindhu still have a chance against (Nozomi) Okuhara and (Akane) Yamaguchi, it's the other three matches that’ll eventually tell you the story. So, it's going to be difficult,” says Popat.

The competition in the women’s singles is open as ever and with all top rung players showing promise, Popat believes that Sindhu and Saina could make the most of it in Jakarta.

“I think we have a great chance because the way Sindhu is playing and Saina is always there. It depends on the draw but I know both of them are capable of beating anyone. There's hardly any competition between the top 10. Anything to happen,” she concludes.

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Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 23:14:02 IST