There’s no doubt about the pressure on Sania Nehwal’s shoulders. A bronze medal from London is showcased in her trophy cabinet but four years have passed. Fans are hoping for a repeat, if not a better result. But the world No 5 is refusing to rise to the bait.
““If I can do something better than that (bronze) this time, then it will be a great thing. There are a lot of tough players. A lot of tough competition. I just want to give my best and stay injury free and fit,” she had told this correspondent earlier in the year.
But with seven players qualifying for Rio this time, fans are notably excited about the contingent’s chances.
World No 11 Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu (No 10) will be making their maiden appearances in the men’s and women’s singles draws, respectively. For the women’s doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, it will be their second time round at the multi-sporting event. This time, the men’s doubles duo - Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy – will also be seen at Rio. They are the first men’s pair to play in the Games since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
However, one thing should be kept in mind. The last time in London, the main competition in the women’s singles was among the top three Chinese and Saina. However, it’s a different scenario in Rio. Though India will be fielding two women in singles for the first time, the competition among the top 10 is so close that anyone can conquer on the given day. For example, world champion Carolina Marin of Spain (Saina leads 4-3 head-to-head) or former world champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand (7-5), who are ranked 1 and 4, respectively, are Saina’s major rivals this time. Yet no one can take London gold medallist and world No 3 Li Xuerui (2-12) or No 2 Wang Yihan (5-11) lightly. Then there are upcoming youngsters Nozomi Okuhara of Japan (the reigning All England champ) and Taipei’s Tai Tzu-Ying.
Though Saina won the Australian Open this year and made four semifinals, she can’t take anything for granted considering the high-level of opposition. Sindhu began the year with a win in the Malaysian Masters but since then has had only five quarterfinal appearances. But the 20-year-old is known to raise her game when it matters. After all, winning two World Championship bronze medals hasn’t been easy. Though India’s hopes in the women’s singles are high, getting a medal won’t be calk walk.
Coming to the men’s singles, Srikanth has tough competition from the likes of Lin Dan, Chen Long and Lee Chong Wei. He has defeated Dan in the China Open and Chong Wei in the Premier Badminton League, but the Olympics are Super Dan’s grand stage. Along with Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Jan O Jorgensen’s challenge, the winner of the Syed Modi meet this year will have his work cut out for him.
Both doubles have a draw of 16 which includes group and knockouts. To be able to win a medal, a team first needs one or two good wins in the groups. Then, a top-quality win in the quarters and finally a victory in the semis. Unlike most team events, the Olympics have a bronze-medal playoff. Though the duo of Jwala-Ashwini and Manu-Sumeeth are experienced, it remains to be seen how the pair perform on the day of the meet.