They exude confidence

I feel fully fit now and I am stroking well and I can move quicker on the court and yes, I feel I am ready for the Olympics. -- Anup Sridhar-SANDEEP SAXENA

Anup Sridhar has slipped in the World rankings from 24 to 33. But by virtue of being in the top 38 in World rankings, he has made the cut to the Olympics. As has Saina Nehwal, ranked No. 30 in the women’s section. By Kalyan Ashok.

The Indian shuttlers are once again set to live an Olympic dream and the Beijing bound Indian stars, Anup Sridhar and Saina Nehwal are all set to take on the World. The odds are high and Indian history at the Olympics is poor, with no player ever making it past the second round, ever since Vimal Kumar, became the first Indian to play at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

But nevertheless, the Indian duo exude confidence. It has not exactly been a great start to the season by Anup Sridhar, who while on an European Tour four moths ago, aggravated his ankle injury during the Swiss Super Series.

He was sidelined for the next couple of months, before battling back to form and fitness. His first outing, the Asian Badminton Championship where he was a semi-finalist last year, also was not encouraging as he crashed out in the first round. But Anup Sridhar, though slipping in the World rankings from 24 to 33, remained the top Indian player on the World Badminton Federation’s list and by virtue of being in the top 38, Sridhar made the cut for the Olympics. So did Saina Nehwal ranked No. 30 in the women’s section.

Both the players are aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Saina said: “It was my dream to play in the Olympics and I am excited to represent the country. I am also aware of the big challenge that awaits me. I am prepared for it. The whole focus is now on the Olympics and I am training hard with my coach, Pullela Gopi Chand. I am not going to be overawed either by the occasion or the field and I hope to play my natural game and go for a win, with every outing.”

The 18-year-old Saina, is the wonder kid of Indian badminton and had a meteoric rise, ending the reign of Aparna Popat on the Indian women’s scene. 2006 was a watershed in her career when she won a Four Star Phillippines Open championship, besides claiming a bronze in the Commonwealth Games. She was also a finalist at the World junior championship. She has gone from strength to strength, though there was a slump early this year. She is a brave and buoyant figure on the court and has what it takes to be a champion.

The 25-year-old Anup Sridhar, twice National champion, has come out of a tricky phase. “The ankle injury, in a way affected my schedule this season and I had to skip quite a few events including the Indian Open at Hyderabad.

“But I feel fully fit now and I am stroking well and I can move quicker on the court and yes, I feel I am ready for the Olympics,” said the Banglaore based shuttler, whose 2007 World championship (quarter-finalist) and ABC (semi-finalist) performances, were highpoints in his career. He has been a ward of the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy ever since its inception in 1994 and his mentors, Padukone and Vimal Kumar, have always rated him as champion stuff.

It was my dream to play in the Olympics and I am excigted to represent the country. I am also aware of the big challenge that awaits me. I am prepared for it. The whole focus is now on the Olympics and I am training hard with my coach, Pullela Gopi Chand. -- SAINA NEHWAL.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Padukone wants him to play each rival on merit. “At the Olympics, every match counts and he should take one at a time and not think too much about the future. He has the talent and he needs to maintain consistency and keep his fitness. If he can do that, he would fare well,” said Padukone. Sridhar’s travelling coach, Tom John, former chief trainer at England Badminton Association’s High Performance Training Centre, concurred with Padukone and asserted, “on his day, Anup can match the best and also beat them.

There is nothing much we can add to his technique which is world class and all I wish to ensure is that he keeps peak fitness level right through the Olympics,” said the coach.

Both Saina and Sridhar, would get an opportunity to fine tune their preparations as they are set to play a set of three Grand Prix events, Singapore Open, Indonesian Open and Thailand Open, as a run up to the Olympics. Anup Sridhar has a lot more to cheer about the Olympics as his parents are set to fly to Beijing to be along with him.

His father, D. R. Sridhara, General Manager and Chief Vigilance Officer of the Vijaya Bank, said: “It is a proud moment for us and we plan to be there and support him.”