Rio de Janeiro, Aug 10 : Hopes are high from Indian shuttlers at the Olympics as seven of them gear up to battle it out with the world’s top players for a medal. Four years ago, there were five Indian shuttlers at the London Olympics, but this time around the Indian contingent has grabbed two more places in the Summer Games.
The Indian shuttlers will be starting their campaign on Thursday here at the fourth pavilion of Riocentro. London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and double World Championship bronze medallist P.V. Sindhu qualified in the women’s singles category, while Kidambi Srikanth made it in the men’s singles category. (ALSO READ: Anirban Lahiri, SSP Chawrasia eye medals as golf returns to Rio Olympics )
Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy grabbed a spot in the men’s doubles event while the Asian Championship bronze Medallist duo of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnapa qualified for the women’s doubles category for the second time on the trot. The only event in which Indian shuttlers have failed to gain an entry in the Games is the mixed doubles category.
There is no doubt about the capabilities of the star-studded Indian badminton squad as players like Saina will be trying to improve the colour of the medal while the likes of Srikanth and Sindhu will be trying their level best to get on to the podium. Saina has improved the standard of her game after replacing former coach Puella Gopichand with Vimal Kumar. The former World No.1 has been in good form, registering an Asian Championship bronze medal this year and winning the Australian Open Superseries.
The 26-year-old 2015 World Championsip runner-up will be up against the local hope Lohaynny Vicente in her first battle of group G of the women’s singles event. The consistent performances of current World No.10 Sindhu have increased the expectations of a medal at the Games this year. The 20-year-old Arjuna Awarde took bronze medals at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships and is under constant training under national head coach Pullela Gopichand.
She will be battling it out at her first match with the Hungarian Laura Sárosi in the group M of the women’s singles event. Experts believe that this period is the golden era of badminton in India despite the fact that many players are battling with injury. The top women’s doubles pair of Jwala and Ashwini also have an outside good chance of grabbing a medal against tough Chinese competition at the Olympics.
The duo will face current world no.1 Japanese pair of A. Takahashi and M. Matsutomo in their opening match in the women’s doubles event. The appointment of former Malaysia star Tan Kim Her — who won gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games — as the country’s doubles coach earlier this year has given the Indian doubles team a boost.
Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy have been training hard throughout the year and have clinched a few Grand Prix titles last year. The Indian men’s doubles duo will be facing the power hitting of the former world no.1 Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia) in their opening battle. India will surely miss current Commonwealth Games men’s singles champion Parupalli Kashyap as he backed out from the Olympics due to a prolonged knee injury. This means that all Indian hopes in the men’s singles category now rest on Kidambi Srikanth.
The 23-year-old from Guntur is a promising contender for a medal. He has notched up a few titles and semi-final appearances over the last four years and the world No.3 spot few weeks ago have given him a further boost. He clinched the 2014 China Open Superseries title after beating twice Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan 21-19, 21-17 in an epic counter, thus becoming the first Indian to win a Superseries Premier men’s title.
Indian hopes in the men’s singles will be opening its campaign against Lino Munoz of Mexico. Badminton Association of India President Akhilesh Das Gupta and national head coach Gopichand are both hoping and expecting for at least two medals at the Rio Games. Legendary Prakash Padukone also believes that Indian shuttlers have a very good chance of winning multiple medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, considering the depth in women’s singles.