Friday, November 12, 2010

Will Saina end India's gold drought in Asiad?

Saina Nehwal
Spurred on by the Commonwealth Games triumph, sensational shuttler Saina Nehwal is confident of breaking the 48-year-old jinx at the Asian Games.

Ever since badminton made its debut at the Jakarta Asian Games in 1962, no Indian has managed to kiss the yellow metal, despite winning several bronze medals.

Prakash Padukone, the best shuttler India has produced so far, could have ended this drought had he been allowed to participate in the 1982 Asiad. Club commitments denied Prakash, who was in great form then, to compete in the Delhi Games.

But for him no other Indian looked like winning the gold at the Games. However, Saina offers hope and looks good to finish on the top of the podium. Moreover, a favourable draw has boosted Saina's chances. As the Games' rules allow only two Chinese players in the women's singles, Saina, seeded second in the event, is likely to face the lesser fancied Shixian Wang in the semifinals.

Though she lost to her at the quarters of the World Championships in August, Saina is unperturbed by the Shixian challenge. "I had beaten her earlier. She's not that big a player to be worried about. I was not in good shape during the World Championships. After winning three tournaments in June, my body refused to take more load. But now I am in great shape and am keen to avenge that defeat," a confident Saina said.

Saina's biggest threat at this competition would be top seed and World No.1 Xin Wang of China. Xin enjoys a 2-0 head to head record over Saina, but her latest victory over the Indian was way back on Jan 22, 2010 at the Malaysian Super Series. "I have improved a lot since then. I only have to give my best that day," Saina said.

But for Saina, only the mixed doubles pair of Valiyaveetil Diju and Jwala Gutta have a chance of winning a medal at the Games. The draw favours the fourth-seeded Indians to make it to the semifinals, where they could meet second seeds Sheng Mu Lee and Yu Chin Chien of Chinese Taipei.

The other Indians in the fray, including Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta, who clinched the women's doubles gold at CWG are unlikely to progress beyond the quarters.

As Chetan Anand pulled out in the last minute, Parupalli Kashyap is the lone Indian in the men's singles. Kashyap, who beat Chetan to win the bronze at CWG, will be pitted against triple Olympic and World Champion Lin Dan of China.


Saina Nehwal: The World no.3 is India's best bet at the Games. She is in top form and is expected to reach the semifinals without much difficulty. She is likely to face Chinese shuttlers Shixian Wang in semifinals and Wang Xin in the finals. Saina is looking forward to settle some old scores with these top ranked opponents.

Jwala Gutta: The doubles specialist is likely to concentrate more on the mixed doubles as her chances in the women's doubles look more or less remote. She and her mixed doubles partner Valiyaveetil Diju are expected to reach the semifinals.

Parupalli Kashyap: Of late, the 24-year-old is showing a lot of promise. However, he runs into Lin Dan of China, regarded as the best ever shuttler the world has seen so far. Kashyap needs to produce magic to beat Lin Dan in the quarters.


World No.1 Xin Wang of China is the biggest threat for Saina Nehwal, the only Indian gold medal hope. Saina is expected to meet Xin in the finals. The latter has a 2-0 record over Saina. But Saina says she is playing her best game now and had even managed to stretch Xin to three games in their last meeting at the Malaysia Super Series in January.

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