India stand a realistic chance of bagging a rich haul of medals when the Asian Badminton Championships start at the Siri Fort Complex on Monday. With world No. 5 Saina Nehwal and shuttlers like Anup Sridhar, Aravind Bhat and the mixed doubles pair of V. Diju and Jwala Gutta coming into peak form, the Indian challenge should not be underestimated.
But here’s a reality check. By virtue of being the host nation, India had been given two extra slots in all five categories, which they failed to fill. As per the equation, India were given eight slots each in the singles (men's and women's), five in doubles (men’s and women’s) and six in mixed doubles.
As things stand, India could fill only seven in women's singles, three in men's doubles, two in women's doubles and four in the mixed doubles category. The situation has arisen partly because of the junior team, which leaves for Mexico to participate in the World Junior Championships that commences from April 16. India have a decent second-string team in players like Sikki Reddy, Prajakta S., Pranav Chopra, Guru Sai Dutt and Sai Praneeth, who leave on Sunday. Though national coach, Pullela Gopichand, admitted that there is a lack of a talented bench, he added the federation is making efforts to improve the situation.
“We cannot fill the slots just for the heck of it. You need to have good players. Especially in mixed doubles,” said Gopi.
Tough draw, says Saina
Saina, who has been given top billing at the championships, has a tough draw. She will take on Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand in the first round. Porntip has proved to be a tough competitior for Saina over the years. Said Saina, “It's tricky. But I hope to pull it off.”
Coach Gopi echoed the sentiment. “She plays Julia Xian Wong in the second round. Saina has lost close matches against her in the past. She has to play to her full potential.”
On Chetan Anand’s pullout, Gopi felt it was a setback but players like Bhat and Sridhar could reach the quarters. “Sridhar should make the last eight safely,” he said.