PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth will look to break new grounds as they spearhead India’s charge for an elusive gold at the 18th Asian Games badminton event which begins with the team competitions in Jakarta from Sunday. India ended a 28-year-old medal drought when the women’s team, led by Saina Nehwal and Sindhu, clinched its maiden bronze medal at the 2014 edition at Incheon, South Korea. Before that, it was the men’s team, comprising Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar, who had claimed a bronze in the 1986 edition.
Among the eight bronze won by Indian shuttlers since the 1966 Asiad, Syed Modi remains India’s only singles medallist in 1982 and Sindhu, who has been in rampaging form, will look to break that jinx when she begins her campaign in the individual event starting August 23.
In the team competition, Sindhu and Co. will look to better their bronze medal show when the women’s team begins its campaign on Monday against top seeds Japan in the quarterfinals after receiving a first-round bye.
Japan, who clinched the Uber Cup title this year, boasts of top singles players such as 2017 World Champion Nozomi Okuhara and world No 2 Akane Yamaguchi, besides current world no 1 and world no 2 pairs of Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota and Misaki Matsutoma and Ayaka Takahashi respectively.
However, Sindhu had scalped both Nozomi and Yamaguchi en route her second successive World Championship silver last month and the Indian will have to outwit the Japanese contenders once again to salvage any hopes of earning India’s historic gold medal in both team and individual events. A lot will also depend on doubles specialists Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy as they deal with their higher-ranked rivals.
Saina Nehwal too had a decent outing this season, winning her second gold at Commonwealth Games and a runners-up finish at the Indonesian Masters at this Asian Games venue. However, she will have to recover quickly from her quarterfinal exit in the Nanjing World championships early this month and put the best foot forward in both the women’s team event and individual competitions.
For the men’s team, the action will begin on Sunday as it opens against minnows Maldives. If India can cross the first hurdle, they will take on hosts Indonesia, who received a first-round bye, in the quarter-finals. Led by Srikanth and HS Prannoy, it will be a golden opportunity for India to improve their record at the Asian Games by ending the 32-year long wait for a men’s team medal.
Indonesia boasts of good players such as Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in singles, while their doubles line-up comprises world no 1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and world no 9 Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto. But Srikanth and Prannoy have shown in the past that they are capable of outwitting their rivals and if Commonwealth Games silver medallists Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy can punch above their weight, a medal can be a possibility.
In the individual event which begins from August 22, Srikanth and Prannoy would be India’s best medal bets in men’s singles. India coach P Gopichand is optimistic that a new page will be turned in India’s badminton history, though, he had expressed concern about recovery of his players as Asian Games are beginning just a few days after a gruelling World Championships.