Somdev, Sania carry Indian hopes

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who won the doubles gold last time in Doha, are absent this time as they have qualified for the world doubles finals in London. Paes had won the mixed doubles title too, along with Sania as India enjoyed a successful stay in Doha.

Their absence has forced the Indians to downsize their aspirations from Guangzhou. Sania, the individual silver medallist in Doha, is battling a throat infection but she will have to don a key role this time, as India kick-start their campaign with a clash against Indonesia in the team event. Sania, if fit, will play the singles along with Poojashree Venkatesha while Rushmi Chakravarthi and Nirupama Sanjeev could figure in the doubles.

Coach Enrico Piperno was looking a bronze medal from the team event but it will be a tough proposition with the Indians set to run into Thailand -- spearheaded by Tamarine Tanasugarn -- in the quarterfinals if they win the first-round tie. Poojashree hoped the team would do well. “We have Sania, who is a very good player. No one can guarantee we will win the gold but we will try our best,” said the Karnataka girl.

China have high hopes from their tennis team, with world No 11 Li Na leading their quest. Li will be playing in only the team event while defending champion Zheng Jie will miss the Games because of a wrist injury. Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai are the Chinese medal hopefuls while Uzbekistan have a strong contender in Akgul Amanmuradova, ranked 69th in the world.

India’s men have drawn a bye in the first round of the team event. Seeded fourth, they will start against Qatar, with Somdev Devvarman at the forefront of their quest. J Vishnuvardhan, Karan Rastogi and Sanam Singh complete the Indian line-up with coach Nandan Bal yet to decide on the second singles player.

Rohan Bopanna missed out on a qualifying spot at London and if he makes it here, India can mount a strong challenge in the individual event. Chinese Taipei’s world No 33 Lu Yen Hsun, a quarterfinalist at this year’s Wimbledon where he beat Andy Roddick, world no 54 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan and Mikhail Kukuskin (No 58) are the leading contenders in the men’s singles.

Thailand twins Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana, silver medallists last time, will be the favourites in the men’s doubles, with Paes and Bhupathi absent.

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