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‘Court’ order: Ready to smash and crush

other Updated: Sep 20, 2010 00:14 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The last time the Indian national anthem was played during the medal ceremony of a badminton event in the 1982 Commonwealth Games, current sensation Saina Nehwal was not even born, and her mentor and now chief national coach Pullela Gopi Chand was still learning the ropes of the sport.

Twenty-eight years after Syed Modi won the last of India's two gold medals in Brisbane, 20-year-old Saina will walk into the Siri Fort auditorium as firm favourite to end the gold drought.

The biggest challenge for the Indonesia and Singapore Super Series champion is expected to come from Malaysia's Mew Choo Wong, whom the Indian ace has beaten convincingly in their three meetings this year.

But the most heartening thing for badminton lovers in the country is the knowledge that unlike the earlier editions, the Indian challenge would not be dependent on one individual. Jwala Gutta and V Diju are favourites to win the gold in the mixed doubles and an Indian on the podium in all the five individual events won't be impossible in case of a slightly favourable draw.

Even if that doesn't happen, equalling the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games record of four medals — two silver and two bronze — should be a realistic possibility.

This overall strength has prompted Gopi Chand to juggle the combination for the mixed team championship. The 2001 All England champion, who led the men's team to a silver medal in 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games, has sacrificed one women's singles spot in the individual event to pick an additional doubles player for the team championship.

"We have a good chance in the team championship, so we picked an additional women's doubles player to give ample rest to Jwala Gutta (who will be playing both mixed doubles and women's doubles)," said a member of the selection committee.

Jwala played a pivotal role in India's bronze medal winning performance in the last edition of the Games in Melbourne and her fitness for the big matches against Malaysia and England could make a big difference to India's chances.

While the doubles combinations are expected to play their part, the major worry for Gopi Chand would be the form of his men's singles players. National champion Chetan Anand and P Kashyap had forgettable outings at the World Championships in Paris last month and will have to pull up their socks to ensure that there are no hiccups on the way.

Badminton powerhouse Malaysia will be India's biggest adversary with world number one Lee Chong Wei expected to lead the charge. The world championship quarterfinalist has been named in the Malaysian squad but is still nursing a knee injury, which forced him to opt out of the Japan Super Series to be played from September 21-26.

Malaysia and England had been dominating the three doubles rubbers to keep India out of the top-two bracket in the team championship. But doubles is no longer a weak link and, with a vociferous crowd backing them, the team should be propelled down a path they have never travelled before.