A quartet of Indian shuttlers, led by the reigning world champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist PV Sindhu, is aiming to continue the trend of returning with an Olympic medal after achieving success in the last two editions of the Games.
The stunning run in Rio that made her the toast of the nation ended with a thrilling loss in the final, and Sindhu will be keen to lay her hands on the gold this time around.
In men’s singles, B Sai Praneeth will hope to make a dream Olympic debut. The Indian, who had won the 2017 Singapore Open before claiming the World Championship bronze in 2019, has been hampered by fitness issues in his career. But he has worked on them in the last few months.
In men’s doubles, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will carry India’s hopes of a first-ever medal in the category but the task will be a tough one, considering that they have been handed a difficult draw.
Here is a look at the shuttlers, who would be either looking to better the colour of the medal or create a breakthrough in their respective categories in the competition, starting July 24 at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza in the Japanese capital.
PV Sindhu (Women’s Singles)
Sindhu transcended most expectations and became a household name after her unprecedented run at the Rio Olympics, where she went a step ahead of her senior pro Saina Newhal’s London bronze medal with a first-ever silver on debut.
Five years have passed since then and the 26-year-old Sindhu will look to use her experience to bring home India’s first gold in badminton.
Since Rio, the Hyderabad shuttler has consistently reached the finals of major events, including the 2017 World Championship clocking 110 minutes in the summit clash against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara. She won a silver and a year later again registered another runner-up finish at the World Championship in Nanjing, after going down to Olympic champion Carolina Marin.
She also made it to the summit clashes of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in 2018 but the gold was proving elusive.
But a relentless Sindhu crossed an important hurdle by becoming the first Indian shuttler to claim the season-ending World Tour Finals in 2018. It was a turning point, and a year later she claimed the historic World Championship in Basel.
PV Sindhu in last Olympic cycle
|2016 China Open Superseries||Gold medal|
|2017 India Open Sueperseries||Gold medal|
|2017 Korea Open Superseries||Gold medal|
|2017 BWF World Championships||Silver medal|
|2017 Syed Modi International||Gold medal|
|2017 Hong Kong Open||Silver medal|
|2017 Dubai World Superseries Finals||Silver medal|
|2018 Commonwealth Games||Silver medal|
|2018 Asian Games||Silver medal|
|2018 India Open||Silver medal|
|2018 Thailand Open||Silver medal|
|2018 BWF World Championships||Silver medal|
|2018 BWF World Tour Finals||Gold medal|
|2019 Indonesia Open||Silver medal|
|2021 Swiss Open||Silver medal|
She will enter Tokyo as one of the favourites to win the gold, especially after the withdrawal of injured Carolina Marin, who had stopped her run last time.
However, in the run-up to the Olympics, Sindhu didn’t have a great outing this year with just one final appearance at the Swiss Open and a semi-final finish at All England as both ended with tough losses against Marin and Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong.
But Sindhu has always been a big match player and she has spoken about using the time without competitions to work on new skills with foreign coach Park Tae-sang to be in the best shape for the Olympics.
Expert view: Aparna Popat, two-time Olympian to Scroll.in
Because of the lack of events, shuttlers get the time to work on your game and also get the chance to recover properly. On the BWF Tour, the players are usually playing non-stop. They are strained. Now they have had a chance to rest. But while the time is good to add to their game, they have not had a chance to test it out. We hope that those changes will work. Going back to 2016, that’s what Marin did. She came out at Rio with two-three things added to her game and just took everyone by surprise. Even Sindhu, with her jump smashes. Those really worked. Everyone would have had this time, so it is going to be really interesting to see who have added what.
A look at the draw and Sindhu, on paper, shouldn’t have any problem in getting across Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi (ranked 34th) and Israel’s Ksenia Polikarpova (ranked 58th) and top Group J.
Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt, whom she is likely to meet in pre-quarters, will pose her a good challenge having already beaten the Indian once in 2021, but Sindhu still has a superior 4-1 record. A win is expected to put her face-to-face with World No. 5 Japanese star Akane Yamaguchi, whom she has beaten at All England recently.
From there, Sindhu might cross swords with world no 1 Taiwanese Tai Tzu Ying, one whom Park considers her fiercest rival if she can cross this hurdle.
PV Sindhu on Tokyo 2020
“I think the (break during) pandemic was very useful because I got to learn more and focus more on my technique and skills.”
“It’s a good draw in the group stage. But this is the Olympics and it is not going to be easy, each point is very important.
“Everybody is going to be in top form, I hope I do well. Every match is important so I will take match by match.”
B Sai Praneeth (Men’s Singles)
Making his debut at the Olympics, the immensely-gifted Praneeth will be one of the dark horses and might spring a surprise at the world’s biggest stage with his reservoir of talent.
Praneeth had walked out of the shadow of his illustrious compatriots such as Sindhu, Saina, and Kidambi Srikanth with a maiden Super Series title at the 2017 Singapore Open but was hampered by fitness issues.
The 2019 World Championship catapulted him to the top 10 as he became the first Indian male shuttler after the legendary Prakash Padukone to return with a medal – a bronze – from the prestigious tournament.
A false positive in Thailand spoilt his return to the sport following the Covid-19 break. He has worked on his fitness in the last few months and with a relatively easier group stage draw at hand, he would look to better the quarterfinal finish of his compatriots Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap in previous Games.
B Sai Praneeth in last Olympic cycle
|2017 Thailand Open||Gold medal|
|2017 Syed Modi International||Silver medal|
|2017 Singapore Open||Gold medal|
|2019 Swiss Open||Silver medal|
|2019 BWF World Championships||Bronze medal|
But it would be easier said than done considering that he needs to get the better of top contender such as Japan’s top seed Kento Momota, drawn to face in the quarter-final should the Indian make it that far.
Chirag Shetty and Satwiksariraj Rankireddy (Men’s Doubles)
One of the most exciting men’s doubles pairs in world badminton, Chirag and Satwik have raised the bars with each passing tournament and under the guidance of former Olympic medallist coach Mathias Boe of Denmark, they are capable of writing a new chapter for Indian doubles at Olympics.
The 24-year-old Chirag from Mumbai and Satwik, 20, from Amalapuram is only the second Indian men’s pair to qualify for the Olympics and are entering the Games as underdogs.
The duo had bagged India’s maiden men’s doubles silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, before going on a title run at Thailand Super 500 and a final finish at French Open Super 750 in 2019.
The Indian pair also reached the semi-finals at Thailand Super 1000 in January this year.
The Indian pair in last Olympic cycle
|2018 Hyderabad Open||Gold Medal|
|2018 Syed Modi International||Silver Medal|
|2018 Commonwealth Games||Silver Medal|
|2019 Thailand Open||Gold Medal|
|2019 French Open||Silver Medal|
Expert view: Aparna Popat, two-time Olympian to Scroll.in
Sai will have to play each and every match well, the men’s singles is such a tough field. If he gets through the group, Angus is also tough before Momota. If he manages the conditions and plays his game, then he can pull wins off. Doubles, the boys have got a damn tough group but it is unavoidable. They need to just focus on getting out of the group, get that one big win. When you start off with matches where you are not expected to win, they will get used to the pace of the tournament. Better chances in the subsequent matches. Doubles is so tricky, so quick. From 16-all, 17-all, it could go anyway in a match. Our boys have no pressure, I wouldn’t close doors on them at all.
Pullela Gopichand on the Indian men’s doubles pair
“Chirag and Satwik, although, have a tough draw but I do see them as potential hopefuls for a medal”
They also had their share of personal battles against Covid-19 as Chirag lost his grandfather in April and Satwik himself was down with the virus last year.
The duo is in a tough group, squeezed alongside the world number one and top-seed Indonesians Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, world number three Chinese Taipei pair of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin and England’s Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in Group A.
But Chirag knows if they have to reach the knockout stages, they will have to get the better of the best and said they are up for the challenge.
The badminton competition will start on July 24.
(With PTI inputs)
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