Badminton will be the most followed sport during the Tokyo Olympics by Indians given the historic silver won by PV Sindhu at Rio 2016 and bronze by Saina Nehwal four years prior to that.
This time around the Indian badminton contingent will be missing names such as Saina, Kidambi Srikanth and Ashwini Ponnappa. Nevertheless, fans remain hopeful for a medal considering India has had at least one podium finish at the World Championships and Olympics since 2011.
The medal possibilities for the Men’s Doubles team of Satwik and Chirag were already discussed. Today we look at the chances of singles players PV Sindhu and B Sai Praneeth.
PV Sindhu: Can she win a medal at Tokyo Olympics?
Despite erratic performances since winning the 2019 World Championships, the one reason why she is still regarded as a gold contender for Badminton Tokyo is her impeccable record at big tournaments. Since winning bronze at the 2013 WCH, she has failed to medal only once at a World or Olympic tournament, and that too was prior to her breakthrough year of 2016. Also of note is her mental toughness in coming back from heartbreaking finals losses between 2016-2018. The contrast between the careers of Sindhu and Tokyo gold favourite Tai Tzu-Ying could not be starker.
But in women’s singles badminton at Tokyo Olympics, TTY will not be the only hurdle facing Sindhu. Even the absence of defending champion Carolina Marin has failed to dilute the quality of the field. There are the two home favourites Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, each renowned for their legendary defensive skills; the Chinese duo of Chen Yufei and He Bingjiao looking to get their nation back to the podium after the 2016 blip; the elegant Thai shuttler Ratchanok Intanon and Korean upstart An Se-young.
And we haven’t even spoken about dark horses such as Michelle Li, Beiwen Zhang, Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Kirsty Gilmour among others; each of them is capable of causing Round of 16 and quarter-final upsets.
If Men’s Tennis has a Big Three, Women’s Badminton has something approaching a Big Ten. The task for Sindhu is clearly cut out. Assessing all the factors, a gold looks difficult but she has a fair chance of reaching the semis.
But if anyone can pull it off in Indian badminton it’s her. She has risen against the tide time and again, and it’s time for one final crack at Tokyo.
Sai Praneeth: Mission Impossible?
2017 was a year of great promise for the Indian MS circuit. Sadly four years later much of it has evaporated and the only remnant of that era at Tokyo will be B. Sai Praneeth.
Praneeth for long under the shadow of Srikanth and HS Prannoy surpassed the duo by getting a bronze at the 2019 Worlds and later qualifying for Tokyo.
His current form though is a cause for concern. The only notable result this year was a 3-game loss to Viktor Axelsen at the All England. In fact, even a disinterested Srikanth is currently ahead of him in the World Rankings.
Unlike WS, the Men’s Singles competition at Tokyo has one clear-cut gold favourite in Kento Momota. There are a number of others who can pose a challenge; Axelsen, the Indonesians Ginting and Christie, defending Champion Chen Long, Shi Yuqi, Chou Tien-Chen and Lee Zii Jia; but they will likely be fighting over silver and bronze. Kento at the moment looks unstoppable, especially at his home event.
Praneeth at present is nowhere in the picture. A Round of 16 loss to one of the above appears to be the most plausible outcome. He can punch above his weight to reach the quarters a la Srikanth and P. Kashyap provided he can get over his weakness of losing form and fitness in the 3rd game. Predicting anything more would be far-fetched.
In short, PV Sindhu is the only realistic hope from India, and even her chances are ridden with uncertainty. Regardless of what happens at the Tokyo Olympics, it is best if some soul-searching is done by the BAI as there was in shooting post-Rio. The latter sport is brimming with medal contenders while Indian badminton desperately needs reinvention.