Hyderabad: The 2016 Rio Olympics was the high point for Indian badminton where reigning world champion PV Sindhu won a silver, only the second medal for the country in that edition with another being Sakshi Malik’s bronze in wrestling.
Sindhu went down to eventual champion Carolina Marin from Spain for the second-place finish earning India the second badminton medal. Saina Nehwal bagged the country’s first ever medal – a bronze – in the London Olympics, 2012.
With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the international calendar and cancelling many tournaments, the London Olympics medalist Saina and Kidambi Srikanth failed to make the cut, leaving the medal hopes on the 25-year-old Sindhu. Sharing the burden of medals hopes are men’s singles player and bronze medalist from World Championships B Sai Praneeth and men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty.
With an Olympic silver already in her kitty, Sindhu eyes the elusive gold in Tokyo. A favourable draw and the withdrawal of defending champion Marin with injury augurs well for the lanky shuttler. But with the women’s draw filled with the quality players like Chen Yufei, Naomi Okuhara, Tai Tzu Ying, Akane Yamaguchi and Ratchanok Intanon, she has to bring her A game out. Once cleared the Group stage, she will run into Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt in the round of 16. And her next opponent in the quarterfinals would be Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi.
In the men’s singles, the hopes cling on to Sai Praneeth. He too got a favourable draw in the initial stages but gets complicated as he progresses. But given the intense competition in the men’s field, Praneeth has to play out of his skin to return with a medal.
Meanwhile, the doubles pair of Satwik-Shetty improved their game manifold in the last two years. The World No.10 pair made the cut with their consistent performance in the international circuit. However, unlike the Indian singles players, the duo handed a tough draw after being clubbed with top-seeded Indonesian pair of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, Chinese Taipei’s world No. 3 Lee yang and Wang Chi Lin and the England duo of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy, ranked 18th. The duo is capable of producing upset results if they perform to their potential on the given day.
They became the first Indian doubles pair to win a Super Series 500 title in 2019 when they won Thailand Open BWF World Tour. They stunned the Chinese duo of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen for their maiden title. This year, Satwik and Chirag have a 12-4 record with semifinal appearances in Thailand and the Swiss Open before bowing out in the second round at the All England Championships.
But lack of tournaments in the run-up to the showpiece event can be a bit of a problem. However, a lot is expected from the four-member badminton contingent, especially from Sindhu.
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