India will head to Gold Coast for the 2018 Commonwealth Games next week with one of the strongest badminton squads ever, headlined by Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu, Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, who is coming off a freak year.
Backing the trio in the singles will be world No 12 HS Prannoy and Ruthvika Shivani Gadde, who had stretched Sindhu at the badminton Nationals last year. Out of the five singles specialists, India can expect at least four medals in the individual format from Sindhu, Saina, Prannoy and Srikanth. Anything less will be a disappointment considering the quality, or lack of, of the opponents.
Strong singles squad
World No 3 Sindhu should really have no trouble winning a gold considering the only real competition for her are compatriot Nehwal, defending champion Michelle Li from Canada and Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour.
Sindhu had won the bronze in Glasgow four years ago and will be keen to change the colour of the medal. The 22-year-old suffered an injury scare last week after spraining her ankle in training but should be fit before the Games begin.
Nehwal will be participating in her third Commonwealth Games campaign. She was handed her debut at the 2006 Melbourne Games as a 15-year-old by former India coach Vimal Kumar. The Haryana-born shuttler shocked all and sundry by beating New Zealand’s Rebecca Bellingham 21-13, 24-22 to help India win a bronze in the mixed-team event.
Four years later at home in New Delhi, Nehwal won the singles gold. She did not participate in the 2014 Games because of an injury sustained during the Australia Superseries. After returning to the circuit last year following a knee surgery, Nehwal is expected to bag a medal at Gold Coast but said there is no pressure. “It is a competition and we have to perform to achieve success,” the 28-year-old had said.
Moving to the men’s singles side, Srikanth, who had lost in the quarter-finals in Glasgow four years ago, is keen on bagging his first CWG medal and wants it to be a gold. “Commonwealth Games is priority for me,” the world No 2 had told the Times of India. Winning a medal there is more important than becoming world No 1... It is one of the targets of the year.”
Prannoy, meanwhile, will be making his CWG debut. The 25-year-old recently said he is in good shape after a foot injury had plagued the beginning of his 2018 season. He is also wary of unheralded shuttlers rather than the favourites such as the legendary Malaysian Lee Chong Wei.
“There are many players such as Rajiv Ouseph and Lee Chong Wei who have played in the past at CWG, but it is the others who we should be wary of,” Prannoy had told PTI. “There are others who are actually good and can trouble you on certain days because you don’t know how they play.”
Chong Wei is the favourite to win gold after missing the Glasgow Games. He had won the double – gold medals in men’s singles and mixed-team – at Melbourne 2006 and New Delhi 2010.The Malaysian is not taking the draw lightly despite being the heavy favourite.
“Everyone is saying that it’s only the Commonwealth Games and I should win it,” Chong Wei was quoted as saying by The Star. “But it’ll be one of the most challenging Games. It’s my last [CWG] but I’m sure others are not going to make it easy for me – especially the younger players. There are not many competitors but India has good players. I can’t take anyone lightly.”
Focus on Chirag and Satwik
More than the singles contingent, though, it’s the in-form pairing of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy where the excitement should really be focussed. India has never won a medal, of any colour, in men’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games. Considering how Chirag and Satwik have been playing in the last six months, that record is set to change but for a huge upset.
Chirag and Satwik will be heading to Gold Coast after breaking into the world’s top 20 for the first time. The pair had reached two Superseries quarter-finals last year and then made it to the semi-finals of the Indonesia Masters in January, where they lost to the world No 1 pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.
At the All England Open earlier this month, the Indian pair lost in the pre-quarterfinals to the world No 2 pair of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen after a close match that lasted over an hour, with the score reading 16-21, 21-16, 21-23.
“We should bring a medal back for our country,” Satwik had told The Field recently. We are pretty confident considering the way we have been playing over the last three months. If we play the way we did at the All England, we can even win the gold.”
India have never won a medal in mixed doubles as well at CWG, and Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy have the best chance to bag a medal, with Malaysia being the only real challengers as such. Reddy will also team up with Ashwini Ponnappa in the women’s doubles, who has two medals at CWG before (gold in 2010 and bronze in 2014, both with Jwala Gutta).
In total, India have won 19 medals in badminton at the Commonwealth Games: five gold, four silver, and 10 bronze. Fifteen of those 19 medals were won in the last five editions, starting from 1998. The first ever Indian to win a medal in badminton at the Commonwealth Games was Dinesh Khanna, who won the bronze in men’s singles in 1966.
It took 12 more years for India to win another medal in the sport, before Prakash Padukone clinched the gold in 1978. Syed Modi replicated Padukone’s heroics by winning the gold again in 1982. After that, India did not win any gold in the sport until Saina Nehwal and Jwala-Ashwini broke the pattern in 2010. P Kashyap was the last gold-medal winner in badminton for India at CWG, at Glasgow 2014.
Considering the strength of the squad for Gold Coast 2018, the Indian shuttlers should come back with at least two golds – in men’s and women’s singles. If Satwik and Chirag can also bag the yellow metal, it’ll be India’s best ever performance at CWG.
Let’s also not forget the mixed-team event that will take place before the individual. India are the top seeds and have been drawn in Group A along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Scotland. The Indians should easily top their group.
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Second seeds Malaysia are the only team that can really come into the way of India and a gold in the mixed-team competition. Malaysia have won the past three consecutive gold medals in the team event, but anything less than a silver will be a disappointment for India.
After the winners in the mixed team event are decided by April 9, all players will move onto their respective individual events from April 10 and try to reach the podium on April 14 and 15.