Badminton at 2016 Rio Games will see 172 participants from several countries selected on the basis of an Olympic Quota System, OQS. Though the Games begin on August 5, 2016, Badminton will be played during August 11-20 at Pavilion 4 of Rio Exhibition Center. The singles events will have 38 men and 38 women while men. Women and mixed doubles categories will feature 16 pairs each. India will be represented by Kidambi Srikanth in men’s singles; Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu in women’s singles; Manu Attri/Sumeeth Reddy in men’s doubles and Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa in women’s doubles. Though India go to Rio with its largest badminton contingent ever, medal hopes this time are not so high, given the current form of the players. Ironically, the badminton powerhouse China will be the worst hit by the OQS because such talented stars as Wang Shixian and Tian Houwei cannot make the grade because a nation’s participation is limited to two players/pair per event. Regardless, China will still have 4 singles players and 6 doubles pairs at the Rio Games. While expectations in India could be running high, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have not been among the winners in some of the recent matches and cannot be counted among medal hopes in their category. Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, China’s Li Xuerui and Spain’s Carolina Marin look decisively better for the gold medal hunt. Among men, the Big Three of Badminton; Chen Long, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei look strong contenders for the singles gold.
While the news of seven Indians booking their places for the 2016 Games generated lot of euphoria, India’s chances of striking success are bleak. If anyone can reach close, it is only Saina Nehwal despite her recent drop in form. She has beaten every player in fray in women’s singles and not long ago, she had reached the BWF ranking summit. But her foot injury has caused the loss of performance in recent time. Regardless; Indian fans will keep a close watch on Saina’s matches. Both Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal had made deep inroads to the top last year with Saina reaching the no.1 spot and Srikanth becoming world no.3 in July. Since then, however, both players have dropped down the ladder-ramp. In almost all his recent matches, Srikanth has become a first-round casualty while the injury-hit Saina has failed to cross the semifinal hurdle. The Indian ace did not participate in many tournament that took his current world ranking to no.8. One can only hope that the two Indian stars will improve their games in the run up to Rio since they still have three months of preparation time. Sindhu is also a talented player but her game lacks consistency. In last week’s Badminton Asia Championships, Sindhu surrendered a semifinal spot to Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying after taking the first game 21-13 and leading 14-8 in the second.
The doubles entries for India are even worse medal hopes. Manu Attri/B Sumeeth Reddy lie at no.19 in a strong men’s doubles field, led by the Korean duo of Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong. There are other strong pairs like Mohammad Ahasan/Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia, Korea’s Kim Gi Jung/Kim Sa Rang and Chinese combo of Zhang Nan/Fu Haifeng. Among these, Attri/Reddy will be really found wanting. In women’s doubles, Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa are world no.15 but their chances are slim in a field led by Japan’s world no.1 Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi. Besides Matsutomo/Takahashi, there are two Chinese and one Indonesian pair, who are also gold medal contenders. In such a scenario, Jwala/Ashwini cannot hope to last too long at Rio.
China’s Wang Shixian got unlucky to miss out on account of the Quota System for the games. Until last week, she was in a neck-to-neck race with compatriot Wang Yihan, who finally made the grade behind Li Xuerui. There was never any doubt about Chen Long and Lin Dan filling up the national quota in men’s singles. In Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei, China also have the world’s no.1 pair in mixed doubles. But there are others, who could put up strong challenge for Zhang/Zhao. Korea’s Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na and Indonesians Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir have the capability of upsetting Zhang/Zhao. China will have another mixed doubles pair in Xu Chen/Ma Jin. Incidentally, India couldn’t find Olympic berth in mixed doubles category.
The world will avidly watch the fight among Badminton’s Big Three; Chen Long, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei in men’s singles. Lin Dan won the Olympic gold at Beijing and London and he has announced his intention of capturing the unprecedented third badminton gold at Rio. But Malaysian superstar Lee Chong Wei is still living his Olympic gold dream. Lee lost to Lin Dan in Beijing and London and he would like to change that silver into gold this time round. However, both Dan and Lee cannot discount the challenge from world no.1 and double world champion Chen Long, who also won the bronze at London Olympics.
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