Usual suspects gun for glory

Saina Nehwal will be targeting a strong show at the Asian Games. AFP FILE PHOTO

In the golden age of Indian badminton, it is only natural to expect the country’s team to strike gold at the Asian Games but it is a task far easier said than done.

India’s rise, especially in the women’s events, has coincided with the arrival of some sparkling talents from other countries and as such, it will involve plenty of pluck if they are to win a maiden gold in Asian Games.

The badminton contests kick off with the team events on Sunday, and India will take on Maldives first in the men’s pre-quarterfinal clash. A win will earn them a quarterfinal against Indonesia on Monday.

The women’s team, meanwhile, will be up against the might of Japan in the quarterfinals on Monday in what should be a blockbuster encounter. Winners of the bronze medal in women’s team event last time, India need to summon all their energies if they are to get past the Japanese.

Needless to say, P V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal need to win their singles matches against Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara. But the key will be the doubles, with the Japanese boasting of two top pairs in their ranks — world number two Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi and Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota.

“It is a tough draw,” admitted India’s coach Pullela Gopichand. “Apart from Okuhara and Yamaguchi, the doubles pairs are also among the best in the world. Let’s see how it goes,” he said.

For the men, the lung-opener against the Maldives will be a walk in the park but the Indonesians will offer stiffer opposition in front of their home crowd in a badminton crazy country.

In the individual events, India will look up to singles again, with Kidambi Srikanth, Sindhu, and Saina at the forefront. Indians’ form has not been good of late, with the exception of Saina's Commonwealth Games gold and a silver for Sindhu in the World Championships. 

Sindhu also had beaten both the top Japanese at the Worlds but for both Sindhu and Saina, Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying has been a hard nut to crack. The world number one has won five titles this year and even though she lost to China’s He Bingjiao in the quarterfinals of the worlds, she must be primed to take on her challengers.

For Srikanth, Asian Games is a chance to redeem a lacklustre season. Barring the Commonwealth Games, where he lost to Lee Chong Wei, Srikanth is yet to make a final but he has the ability to turn it around in Jakarta. A thorny path lies in front though, with newly-minted world champion Kento Momota beginning the firm favourite.

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Usual suspects gun for glory

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