The badminton events at London 2012 are, in all probability, going to be the most watched events by Indian fans across the globe. Needless to mention, Saina Nehwal has captured her country’s imagination over the last four years in a way that few other sportsmen here can. Her failure to capture a medal at Beijing seems to have spurred her onto greater things, and she arrives here as prime contender for atleast a bronze. As usual, China stands in between her and complete world domination.
The popularity of this sport has skyrocketed, thanks to some other rising stars in the Indian ranks, who have earned tickets to the Games:
Parupallu Kashyap (Men’s Singles)
Supported by Olympic Gold Quest, Kashyap has been India’s main hope in the men’s category for a few years now. Coincidentally, he is a product of the Padukone-Gopichand school, and chose to move from Bangalore (Padukone) to Hyderabad (Gopichand) after being diagnosed with Asthma at an early age. His condition seems to have improved with the years, though he has not been able to compete with the worlds best on a consistent basis.
A bronze medalist at the Commonwealth games, Kashyap will feel confident heading into London after beating World No. 3 Chen Long on his way to the semifinals of the 2012 Indonesia Open last month. Spurts of brilliance, though, may not be enough as he competes against a star-studded field, in what could be his last realistic chance at medal glory.
Saina Nehwal (Women’s Singles)
Current World No. 5, though ranking ceases to matter when she takes the court against Chinese opponents. A lot has been written about India’s most popular women athlete- and credit to her for the way she has handled her career through disappointments and successes. She has not fallen victim to the Sania Mirza syndrome, and is only 22. She has a good four more years at her peak, and is already causing some panic in the Chinese ranks.
After winning plenty of trophies over the years, what is important is that after a lull in her career (2011), she heads into London on the back of consecutive Asian wins at Thailand and Indonesia. These wins have caused the Chinese to react in an unprecedented way- because they have included the relatively inexperienced Li Xuerui over World No. 3 Wang Shixian in their team. Xuerui is extremely talented, and has posed several problems to Saina- over whom she holds a 4-2 record, and is the current holder of the Indian Open.
Nevertheless, Saina- though faced with the intimidating strength of Wang Yihan and Juliane Schenk (Germany)- will come away with a medal. I’d not bet on a colour just yet, though.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa (Women’s doubles)
Jwala Gutta, India’s most successful Doubles Badminton player, is a 13-time national champion, and is a gold medalist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Ex-wife of Chetan Anand, Gutta will be partnering Ponnappa in Doubles as well as participating in the Mixed Doubles category where she will be partnering Valiyaveetil Diju. Along with Ponnappa, she is a bronze winner at the 2010 World Championships, and will be heading to London hoping to back Saina as India’s next best medal hope in this category.
Ponnappa, 6 years younger than Gutta, is a 2001 Indian junior Champion and gold medalist at the South Asian Games as well as the Commonwealth Games (with Gutta). Again, their main opponents will be the top-5 ranked Chinese Taipei teams, whom they have NEVER beaten.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa
Valiya Veetil Diju (Mixed Doubles)
A mixed-doubles specialist throughout his career, Dijiu is Ranked 7th in the world in Mixed Doubles with Gutta. Diju has successfully partnered Gutta as the first Indian pair to win a mixed doubles Grand Prix Gold title (2009). The 31 year old could be competing in his last Games, and will hope that Gutta has enough in her to go all the way in both her categories.
Jwala Gutta and Diju