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Golden target: Shuttlers’ flight of fancy

india Updated: Jul 30, 2008 01:07 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Hindustan Times
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Ever since the admission of badminton in the Olympic Games in 1992, Indian shuttlers have predominantly played the role of backbenchers happy to compete but not making an impact. Dipankar Bhattacharya had reached the third round that year and it remains the best ever performance by an Indian in the Olympics so far.

Former All England Champion Pullela Gopichand was expected to improve on that record at the 2000 Sydney Games but went down to Henderawan of Indonesia in the Round of 16. He had beaten Vladislav Druzchenko of Ukraine in the opening round.

But the class of 2008 could well be different with national women's champion Saina Nehwal and twice national champion Anup Sridhar already making the traditional powerhouses take notice of their potential in the run-up to the Games.

Calling them medal contenders would be far fetched at this moment but given the form they have shown in the last one year, a bit of luck on the big match day could well put them in touching distance from the podium.

The two were hoping for a favourable draw to begin with and their wish has been granted with none of them running into the favourites in the initial rounds. World number 15 Nehwal begins her campaign against Russia's Ella Diehl Karachkova, while Sridhar should have an easy outing against Marco Vasconcelos in the opening round.

The first target for both the players would be to reach the third round and take it one match at a time from there. Hong Kong's number four seed Chen Wang could be waiting for Nehwal at that stage while former world number one and eighth seed Peter Gade is the likely opponent for Sridhar.

Both the players accepted that the draw was as good as it could get but Sridhar was not willing to look beyond the first round. "I would prefer to take one round at a time," he added.

The cautious approach is understandable since Sridhar's preparations have been hampered by a spate of injuries to his toe and ankle and the 25-year-old Banglorean is not willing to pressurise himself with the burden of expectations.

National coach Pullela Gopichand, however, expects both the players to reach the last eight and then take it one match at a time. "In this new 21-point format, anything is possible. At times it's a game of nerves," he added.

If the Indian duo can hold its nerves and play to its potential then Indian badminton could well have something more to celebrate than the addition of two more Olympians to the list.