Sindhu, Srikanth lead India’s charge for elusive gold

In-form P.V. 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.

In the team competition, Sindhu (left) and Co. will look to better its bronze medal show when the women’s team begins its campaign on Monday. (File Photo)   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

In-form P.V. 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, here, on 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.

READ: Badminton: Still missing gold and silver

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 its 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, which 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 Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, respectively.

ALSO READ: Gopichand bullish of an impressive Asiad

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 runner-up finish at the Indonesian Masters at this Asian Games venue.

ALSO READ: Saina slips out of top 10 in rankings

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 minnow Maldives. If India can cross the first hurdle, it will take on host Indonesia, which received a first-round bye, in the quarterfinals.

Led by Srikanth and H.S. Prannoy, it will be a golden opportunity for India to improve its record at the Asian Games by ending the 32-year long wait for a men’s team medal.

ALSO READ: Sindhu: 'I'll carry the confidence of my Worlds silver into Asiad'

Indonesia boasts of good players such as Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in singles, while its doubles lineup comprises of the 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 the recovery of his players as Asian Games are beginning just a few days after a gruelling World Championships.