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Asian Games: Indian badminton chases its big moment

As has been the norm the past decade, expectations will be high from Indian shuttlers who will chase Asian Games glory at the Binjiang Gymnasium from September 28 to October 7 in Hangzhou.

Badminton players Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy player during their men's doubles match (PTI)
Badminton players Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy player during their men’s doubles match (PTI)

Irrespective of the tournament, Indian shuttlers today are among the favourites to win trophies or medals. For example, India have won at least one medal at every World Championships and Olympics since 2011. “India is now among the world’s top badminton nations,” says former chief national coach U Vimal Kumar.

It will be no different at the continental showpiece.

Perhaps India’s best event will be the men’s team competition, the Thomas Cup champions having outclassed powerhouses Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia in knockout rounds in Bangkok last year. Pretty much the entire team – Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty and MR Arjun/Dhruv Kapila – will be available in China too.

These players will present India an opportunity to win their first ever badminton gold at the Asian Games. Yes, India doesn’t boast of a great record at the Asiad, having won a medal in only five of the 15 editions that had badminton. Indian shuttlers have won only one silver and nine bronze medals at the continental Games.

That could change in Hangzhou given the strength of the men’s outfit, which has a realistic chance of winning gold.

The women’s team, on the other hand, is not as strong as Incheon 2014 when India won bronze. While PV Sindhu is the leader of the pack, other singles players Ashmita Chaliha, Anupama Upadhyay and Malvika Bansod simply do not have the skill or experience to challenge An Se Young, Tai Tzu Ying or Akane Yamaguchi.

Individual competition (October 2 to 7) — men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles — will begin immediately after the team events (September 28 to October 1).

The only time India won a medal in men’s singles was at New Delhi 1982 where Syed Modi claimed bronze. The wait for another medal has lasted 41 years, though the record can be set straight this time.

One of the two Indian medal hopefuls in men’s singles, HS Prannoy, has been in the form of his life in the past year-and-a-half. After guiding India to the historic Thomas Cup triumph, he also reached the 2022 Swiss Open final. This year, the player from Thiruvananthapuram reached two finals on the BWF World Tour, winning the Malaysia Masters in May.

Prannoy’s biggest individual achievement came last month when after trying for almost a decade he finally won a World Championships medal. In Copenhagen, Prannoy was the only Indian on the rostrum after winning a bronze at the annual showpiece. The performances propelled him to a career-best ranking of world No.6. He is currently No.7, still the highest ranked Indian.

Srikanth, the other player in singles, hasn’t enjoyed the same success as Prannoy of late. But the former world No.1 has the experience, having played all top Asian shuttlers and beaten them too.

Women’s singles brought India two medals from the last Asian Games in Jakarta – the only time after New Delhi 1982 (five medals) when India won multiple medals from the sport. PV Sindhu became the first Indian shuttler in Asian Games history to reach the final, where she lost to Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, settling for silver. Saina Nehwal bagged bronze. Jakarta 2018 was also the only time India brought home medals from women’s singles.

“All are doing extremely well, especially Prannoy is giving back-to-back good results. There are some tough challenges, but I feel Prannoy is good, and of course Sindhu has always done well in big tournaments,” says Saina, who will not be a part of this Asian Games.

Instead, it will be Ashmita Chaliha who will be the second women’s singles player, other than Sindhu. A lack of experience at the big stage will mean India’s hopes will once again rest on the shoulders of the former world champion. The two-time Olympic medallist though has struggled for form of late. Out of 15 tournaments, Sindhu has made her exit in the first couple of rounds an incredible 10 times, only reaching the final once this year at the Spain Masters in April.

After her second round exit in the World Championships – she has won five world medals – Sindhu returned to Hyderabad, deciding to skip the national camp for the Asian Games and train separately under her new Malaysian coach Muhammad Hafiz Hashim.

In doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty present India the best chance of a medal. Dhruv Kapila/MR Arjun, Gayatri Gopichand/Treesa Jolly and Ashwini Ponnappa/Tanisha Crasto, and Rohan Kapoor/Sikki Reddy and Sai Pratheek/Tanisha Crasto are the other pairs who will be in action at Hangzhou.

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