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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Asian Games 2018: PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth lead India’s charge in badminton

India’s tally at the Asian Games reads eight bronze medals and blanks in the silver and gold columns. Perhaps, it is not much of a surprise if one accounts for China’s dominance in the sport.

other-sports Updated: Aug 17, 2018 18:26 IST
Wasi Manazir
Wasi Manazir
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pusarla V Sindhu of India in action during Celcom Axiata Badminton Malaysia Open 2018 at Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur on June 27, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Pusarla V Sindhu of India in action during Celcom Axiata Badminton Malaysia Open 2018 at Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur on June 27, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Getty Images)
         

India has produced some formidable badminton players over the years. Syed Modi, Praksh Padukone, Pullela Gopichand and Aparna Popat were not just dominant on the domestic circuit during their prime but also did well on the more hallowed courts of their sport. It is a surprise, then, that not one Indian shuttler has reached the final of a badminton event at the Asian Games.

India’s tally at the Asian Games reads eight bronze medals and blanks in the silver and gold columns. Perhaps, it is not much of a surprise if one accounts for China’s dominance in the sport. It wasn’t long ago when Chinese contingent would make a clean sweep of the gold medals and it would be a surprise if the finals weren’t an all-Chinese affair. In the 2014 Incheon Games, for example, all four singles’ finalists came from China.

However, China’s firm grip on the game has been slipping in recent years as other Asian nations as well as the Spaniard Carolina Marin in the women’s category and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the men’s section have continuously dented their dominance bit by bit.

India’s brightest badminton star, P.V. Sindhu, reached her second straight World Championship final earlier this month and remains the nation’s biggest hope to break the Asian Games finals duck. She has already become the first Indian to reach the final of an Olympics—a feat she achieved in the 2016 Rio Games—and the first from the country to reach two World Championship finals, and now Asian Games will be another frontier the Hyderabadi shuttler would be eager to conquer.

Her path to the final will be anything but easy, however. Marin is the only non-Asian shuttler in the top 12 of the world badminton rankings, a good indication of the strength of the field in Jakarta.

Taiwanese Tai Tzu-ying is the current world no. 1 and is a strong favourite to improve upon her Incheon bronze. Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara, who defeated Sindhu in an epic 2017 World Championship final, are among the title favourites. Thai world no. 4 Ratchanok Intanon, who has a 4-3 winning record against the top-ranked Indian, will be another formidable challenger. The hopes of the Chinese women will be led by Chen Yufei and He Bingjiao.

Saina Nehwal may have slipped out of the top 10 in world rankings but her defeat of Sindhu in the final of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games indicates her challenge remains potent. Nehwal, 28, who is the first badminton Olympic medallist from India as well as the first woman from the country to reach a world championship final, is an experienced campaigner and her prospects of adding to her Incheon bronze, in the team event, cannot be taken lightly.

If the women’s rankings are dominated by Asians then the story in the men’s category is even starker. World no. 1 Axelsen aside the top 15 are all Asians, indicating the challenge won’t be any easier for the Indian men in fray.

World no. 8 Kidambi Srikanth and no. 11 H.S. Prannoy will lead the nation’s medal hopes in the singles category in Jakarta. Srikanth, who enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2017 and won three BWF Superseries titles, has failed to replicate the same form this year, and will be looking to win his first Asian Games medal in Jakarta. Prannoy has three BWF Grand Prix titles to his name but he is still looking for his first major singles medal.

The strong 20-member Indian badminton contingent for the Jakarta Palembang Games has two doubles pairings in each category. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy will represent the country in the men’s category while the women’s category will see the pairings of Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy as well as Rutaparna Panda and Arathi Sara Sunil.

The tricolour will also be represented in the team events but the prospects of a medal do not stretch beyond the singles events.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 18:12 IST

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