The current members of Indian team have it in them to script the country's best ever performance in the upcoming Badminton Asia championship, beginning here from April 12 to 18.
This observation of National coach P. Gopi Chand was entirely on the consistency of the players during the season and the fact that they had done better whenever India hosted premier events. In fact, India's only gold in the competition came in 1965 when Dinesh Khanna won the men's singles in Lucknow.
Gopi, a semifinalist in 2000 when the event was called Asian badminton championship, said Saina Nehwal had been on a high while the mixed doubles pair of V. Diju and G. Jwala was expected to go all the way.
Although none of the Indians had seen the newly-constructed stadium in the Siri Fort Sports Complex, leave alone getting acclimatised to the conditions, Gopi felt that crowd support could tilt close games in favour of their favourites.
Analysing the prospects of the Indians, Gopi said, “In spite of the leading Chinese giving this event a miss, Saina faces a tricky draw. She will have to be at the top of her game to win the title.
“Her prospective rivals have all beaten her at least once though she too has victories over them. But given Saina's temperament, she will not take any match lightly.
“Saina's first-round rival Porntip Buranaprasertsuk is not an easy opponent. In the second, Saina is drawn to play the winner of Trupti Murgunde and Julia Pie Wong.
“But I must add, I won't be surprised if Trupti wins and plays Saina next. It is important for Saina to play to her potential in this kind of field."
On her part, Saina was confident of prevailing over her rivals. “It is going to be tough but I'm confident of doing well. I am happy with the way I've prepared.”
Gopi said should Diju and Jwala only play to their potential, the mixed doubles gold would be in India's kitty. “They have the best chance of winning the gold here.”
Jwala did not want to look too far ahead. “I usually don't look at the draw. I only look at my first-round opponents, this time they are qualifiers, and concentrate on my preparations.”
Diju, recovering from back pain, was confident of reaching the quarterfinals. “Thereafter, we are expected to play a Chinese pair and things will be tough thereafter.”
After Diju and Jwala made first-round exits in the All England and Swiss Open, the pair is now more determined than ever to play to their seeding.
Looking at the men's singles, Gopi termed the withdrawal of Chetan Anand due to knee-injury as a setback to India's medal prospects but added in the same breath that Anup Sridhar gains from the pullout.
“With Chetan out of the way, Anup should be able to make the quarterfinals. In the 21-point format and crowd support, players like Anup and Arvind Bhat have played above expectations at home.”
Gopi said he would not be surprised if the women's doubles pair of Jwala and Ashwini Ponappa reach at least the semifinals. He tipped Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas to give Indians reasons to rejoice in the coming week.