Commonwealth Games: A rich haul for Indian shuttlers

On the final day of the Games, India won three gold medals to pip giant Malaysia, the sport’s most dominant side at the Commonwealth Games since the 1990s.

On expected lines: P. V. Sindhu clicks selfies with fans after clinching the women’s singles gold. The top seed ended her long wait for an elusive Commonwealth Games gold with a convincing win over Canadian Michelle Li.

On expected lines: P. V. Sindhu clicks selfies with fans after clinching the women’s singles gold. The top seed ended her long wait for an elusive Commonwealth Games gold with a convincing win over Canadian Michelle Li. | Photo Credit: PTI

On the final day of the Games, India won three gold medals to pip giant Malaysia, the sport’s most dominant side at the Commonwealth Games since the 1990s.

India could not retain the badminton mixed team title it won for the first time in the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, but there will be few complaints after its campaign in Birmingham 2022. Indian shuttlers still finished their Commonwealth Games campaign on an all-time high, winning three gold medals for the first time in the history of the quadrennial event. India won two golds in the 2010 and 2018 editions.

India retained the number one rank in Birmingham with an overall tally of six medals — three gold, a silver, and two bronzes. The medal count was the same as in Gold Coast four years ago. On the final day of the Games, India won three gold medals to pip giant Malaysia, the sport’s most dominant side at the CWG since the 1990s. Malaysia has won a record 24 gold medals. The final flourish came after losing the mixed team gold to Malaysia earlier in the Games.

Sindhu corrects an anomaly

On expected lines, top seed P. V. Sindhu, arguably India’s most decorated shuttler, ended her long wait for an elusive CWG gold with a convincing win over Canadian Michelle Li. The World No. 7, who won bronze and silver in the previous two editions, dominated Li for a straight-games (21-15, 21-13) win. This was Sindhu’s seventh successive win over the World No. 13. The last time Sindhu lost to Li was at the Glasgow CWG semifinals eight years ago. En route to the final, Sindhu registered four straight game wins in five matches. Though the two-time Olympic medallist was an outright favourite for the gold, given her vast experience and recent form, she did face some resistance in the quarterfinals when Malaysia’s Goh Jin Wei forced her to play the third game. Sindhu’s win on the final day of the Games set the tone for a golden run.

Historic gold in men’s singles

Moments after Sindhu made the National Exhibition Centre crowd stand on its feet, Lakshya Sen put up a stunning show in a nerve-wracking contest. Up against Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong, who punched above his weight throughout the Games, upsetting higher-ranked Loh Kean Yew, and Kidambi Srikanth twice (once in the mixed team final and then in the singles quarterfinal), Lakshya conceded the first-game from 18-18 to 19-21, failing to play his natural free-flowing game. But in the next two games, he found his range against the agile and deceptive Malaysian. Riding on his trademark smashes, immaculate net play, and rock-solid defence, India’s World No. 10 flummoxed World No. 42 Tze Yong, who made the Malaysian team at the last moment replacing Lee Zii Jia, who had pulled out.

Lakshya clinched the thriller 19-21, 21-9, 21-16 for his maiden gold. After the win, he first hurled his racquet, then his hand bands and finally his shirts into the stands.

His stunning show meant, for the first time, India won both the women’s and men’s singles golds and two Indian men finished on the podium in the singles event. Earlier, Srikanth won the bronze medal with a straight-games win over Singapore’s Jason Teh.

A historic first for Satwik-Chirag

Having lost the mixed team gold to Malaysia (the mixed team event was the first in the badminton fixture), India’s men’s doubles pairing of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty proved a point. In the final on August 8, the Indians proved too hot for England’s Ben Lane and Sean Vendy. The English pair had beaten the Indians in the Denmark Challenger semifinals in 2019. At the CWG, they pulled off an upset win over the Olympic bronze medal-winning Malaysian pairing of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the semifinal. Incidentally, the Malaysians had beaten Satwik and Chirag in the mixed team gold medal match. In the final, however, Satwik and Chirag beat the English pairing 21-15, 21-13 to become the first Indian men’s doubles team to win CWG gold.

Top class: Lakshya Sen clinched a thrilling 19-21, 9-21, 21-16 win against Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong for his maiden gold. His stunning show meant, for the first time, India won both the women’s and men’s singles golds.

Top class: Lakshya Sen clinched a thrilling 19-21, 9-21, 21-16 win against Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong for his maiden gold. His stunning show meant, for the first time, India won both the women’s and men’s singles golds. | Photo Credit: PTI

First medal for women’s doubles

The women’s doubles combination of Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly, both 19, won bronze in a competitive field, which was dominated by the gold medal-winning Malaysian pairing of Pearly Tan and Thinaah Muralitharan. Coming from a mixed team group stage loss to Australians Wendy Chen and Gronya Somerville, the Indian duo faced them again in the bronze medal match. This time, Gayatri-Treesa overwhelmed the Australians 21-15, 21-18. It was the pair’s first major medal since they started playing together in 2021. Their win meant eight of India’s 10-member badminton contingent wrapped up their campaign at the Birmingham Games with individual medals, apart from the mixed team silver.

While there would be some disappointment over the early exit of the mixed doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and B. Sumeeth Reddy in the first round, India will be happy to stay on top of the badminton medals tally, retaining its Commonwealth supremacy over Malaysia.

Preparation for World Championships

Following a successful CWG campaign, can Indian shuttlers capitalise on the momentum for the BWF World Championships in Tokyo from August 22-28?

The World Championships will pose a much tougher challenge than the CWG. Hopes are high on Lakshya who remained unbeaten in the Games en route to the gold medal.

At the Worlds men’s singles, Lakshya and Srikanth, along with H. S. Prannoy, have been clubbed in the same quarter of the draw. To reach the semifinals, they will have to beat World No. 2 Kento Momota and World No.5 Lee Zii Jia.

Both Lakshya and Srikanth were troubled by a nimble-footed Tze Yong at the Commonwealth Games. Srikanth, in fact, looked low in confidence and error-prone against the Malaysian. But Lakshya’s recent form, ability to soak pressure situations, and fitness that saw him return Tze Yong’s booming smashes effectively make him the one to watch out for in Tokyo.

In the absence of former champion P. V. Sindhu, who had to pull out owing to an injury, it will be a tall order for veteran Saina Nehwal and youngster Malvika Bansod.

For both the men’s and the women’s doubles teams, the road to the semifinals is not easier either. Satwik and Chirag will have to beat reigning world champions Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi, while Gayatri and Treesa will again have to deal with Pearly and Thinaah in the first round. The Malaysian pair defeated the Indians twice at the Commonwealth Games.

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