Jakarta: India has been a force in world badminton for a while now and with their reputation enhanced with medals in the Rio Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Championships, one can expect them to be at the helm of affairs at the Asian Games.
Leading the men’s charge is Srikanth Kidambi. The world No. 5 may have disappointed in the recently concluded World Championship in Nanjing — crashing out in the last 16 to Liew Daren — but was confident of doing well here.
“I’m in the best of shape, but everyone else is also doing well,” said Kidambi, 25, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. “We had five different tournaments in the last couple of months, with different winners in each. So it is important for me to be at my best going into the Asian Games.”
Standing in Kidambi’s way will be the Chinese, led by five-time world champion Lin Dan. He, along with compatriots Chen Long and Shi Yuqi, will be the star cast to beat.
Japan’s Kento Momota, who became the first-ever male Japanese player to win gold at the Badminton World Championships Yuqi in the final, will be also high on morale coming into the Asian Games. “There are many players who are doing well. Dan as always will be a fierce competitor. Then, there is Momota and it is not going to be easy at all,” said Kidambi, who is taking part in his second regional showpiece event. “I’m a more mature player now.”
Kidambi who will have talented players such as HS Prannoy, Sai Praneeth and brothers Sameer and Sourabh Verma for company in the singles. “I was just 21 then and a lot many things have changed. A lot many things have gotten redundant and have had to change my game a lot. Many things have happened after that for me — the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Four years is a big time for any sports person and I want to better my performance here,” the player said.
In the women’s category, stars P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal are the ones the team will be banking on heavily for medals. Nehwal has been very selective of late, participating in fewer tournaments than her counterpart. Perhaps, she intends to keep herself fresh for the Asian Games, in which she has competed twice before.
In the 2010 Asian Games in China, Nehwal’s campaign came to an end in the quarter-finals, losing to Yip Pui Yin of Hong Kong. At Incheon, South Korea in 2014, too, her surge ended at the quarters where she lost to Wang Yihan of China. Now 28, Nehwal will be keen to set that record straight this time. She comes into the event after losing in the World Championship semi-finals, to eventual winner and Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain.
Sindhu is also coming into the Asian Games on a high, but her record in the finals has not been great. Sindhu’s loss against Marin in World Championship final was her eighth loss in a major finals, starting with the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Hyderabadi had blasted her critics who came down hard on her after the silver medal finish at the World Championship. “People keep asking me why I am winning only the silver, but many players didn’t even reach the final, which is also a big achievement,” said Sindhu, 23, quickly adding that she was keen to change the ‘colour of her medal’ in Jakarta by giving it her best shot.
Rookies Ashmita Chaliha, Rutaparna Panda, Aarthi Sara Sunil, Aakarshi Kashyap and Gayathri Gopichand will also be looking to draw inspiration from Sindhu and Nehwal.
In the men’s doubles, Commonwealth Games silver medallists Satwik Sairaj Ranki Reddy and Chirag Shetty will be leading the challenge along with Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy. In the women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa will be teaming up with N. Sikki Reddy while Rutaparna Panda will join force with Arathi.