Tokyo Olympics 2020: Tough knock-out challenge awaits PV Sindhu; difficult draw for Sai Praneeth, Satwik-Chirag
PV Sindhu has been drawn into an easier looking group but on her way to the final, she could face Akane Yamaguchi and Tai Tzu Ying.
After narrowly missing out on the gold medal at Rio, India badminton star PV Sindhu will be hoping to stand on top of the podium in Tokyo.
The reigning world champion has been toiling hard on the badminton courts of the Gachibowli Stadium to prepare for the Tokyo Games' challenge, and would now have a better idea about what to expect as the draw was held on Thursday.
Sindhu has been seeded sixth and is placed in the bottom half in Group J of women's singles. Apart from Sindhu, B Sai Praneeth and doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty have qualified for the Olympics.
Praneeth is seeded 13th and drawn in Group D of men's singles. Satwiksairaj and Chirag are in Group A of men's doubles.
Sindhu expected to cruise through group stage
Sindhu will face Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi before taking on Israel's Ksenia Polikarpova in the group stage. There's nothing called easy in an Olympics, but if Sindhu stays true to her reputation and billing, she should get through her group without much worry.
Sindhu has a 5-0 record against World No 34 Ngan Yi and the last time they faced each other was in 2017. She leads 2-0 against World No 58 Polikarpova. Sindhu last faced the Israeli in 2015. In the singles competition, only the top player from a group will qualify for knock-outs.
Things could get tricky from the Round of 16. If everything goes according to the script, Sindhu is expected to face Group I's Mia Blichfeldt in the Last 16. Sindhu last played against the Danish player in the Swiss Open this year where she won 22-20, 21-10. But earlier in January, at Thailand Open, Blichfeldt was the victor in three games. The Indian shuttler leads 4-1 in head-to-heads but needs to be careful as she was made to work extremely hard for points in her last two matches against Blichfeldt.
She is expected to meet Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-finals, and what a mouth-watering clash that would be. The No 4 seed from Japan has a very strong defensive game and plays a tireless brand of badminton.
Sindhu has an 11-7 record against Yamaguchi and defeated her in three games in the All England Open this year but that was the Indian's first win over the Japanese in the last four matches, with Yamaguchi being undefeated since 2019.
If Sindhu reaches the semi-finals, she could face the second seed Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei or the fifth seed Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand. Sindhu trails 4-6 against Intanon and lost both her matches against the Thai player in 2021.
Tai Tzu Ying has won 13 matches against Sindhu and lost only five. The Chinese Taipei shuttler has been a nemesis for Sindhu but let's not forget the Indian won the contest against her at Rio in the Round of 16.
If everything goes well, then Sindhu will possibly face Nozomi Okuhara in the final. Sindhu has a slender 9-8 lead over the third seed Okuhara. The duo has been involved in some of the best badminton matches in recent years. The most memorable being the thrilling 2017 World Championship final which included the mind-boggling 73-shot rally.
Despite fighting tooth and nail, Sindhu lost the match in three games but had her revenge two years later when she defeated Okuhara in the summit clash of the 2019 edition to become the first Indian to win the World Championship.
Tough road ahead for Sai Praneeth
The draw has not been kind on 13th seed Sai Praneeth who has been placed in the same quarter as top seed Kento Momota.
In the group stage, the World No 15 Indian faces world No 29 Mark Caljouw. They have never played against each other but Caljouw made it to the semi-finals of the All England Open this year and could be a real challenge.
He will also play against Isreal’s Misha Zilberman in the group stage and the Indian has never lost to World No 47. In the last 16, Sai Praneeth is expected to face Group C's Ng Ka Long Angus.
The Indian has a 1-3 record against the World No 9 and the only win came in 2015.
Sai Praneeth is known for pulling off upsets and at Tokyo, he will need to do it more than once to go deep.
Rankireddy and Shetty could not have had a tougher draw than what they will be facing in Tokyo.
They are up against top seed pair of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, also know as the 'Minions', in Group A. Then there's Chinese Taipei’s World No 3 Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin who won three titles in three weeks during the Asian leg in January this year.
They will also have England duo of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in their group.
There are four groups in doubles and the top two teams in the group will qualify for the quarter-finals. To put it simply, the Indians have a very difficult job at hand.
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