“Even if we play five to 10 per cent below our potential, it could mean missing a medal. Little separates the contenders, though Malaysia is clearly a rung above.”
This caution comes from chief coach P. Gopi Chand after doing a reality check on the medal-prospects of the Indian shuttlers in the Commonwealth Games.
In the past year, thanks to the exploits of Saina Nehwal and the rise of the mixed doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and V. Diju in world rankings, badminton gained the attention it so richly deserves. With more Indian men breaking the top-50 barrier in world rankings, the expectations of a medal-winning performance in the Commonwealth Games soared. But Gopi is not one to get carried away by the media-hype and other distractions.
“Yes. We have the potential to win a medal in each of the six categories (including the mixed team event). But I am not going to take any medal for granted or become complacent,” states Gopi.
Little to choose
Looking at the 20-nation team event, he says, “Leave out Malaysia (led by men's World No. 1 and 2008 Olympic finalist Chong Wei Lee) and there is very little to choose among India, England and Singapore. One unexpected result can upset all calculations.”
Though India is seeded second behind Malaysia, its best players in three sections — men's singles, doubles and mixed doubles — are ranked behind their counterparts from England. Should the individual rankings, instead of team seedings, hold in their prospective clash, there will be obvious disappointment for the host.
Singapore, the other serious medal contender, will rely mainly on the women's singles, doubles and mixed doubles to get past tougher rivals in the knockout phase.
Saina is favourite
In the individual events, women's World No. 3 Saina is an overwhelming favourite for the singles gold.
“Knowing Saina, as long as she does not take any pressure, I think, she should go all the way,” says Gopi about her protégé and continues, “but she will have to maintain her level against players like Malaysia's Mew Choo Wong and Scotland's Susan Egelstaff, who have beaten her, and there are others in the fray who have run her close in the past.”
Aditi Mutatkar, according to Gopi, has it in her to reach the semifinals. In the men's singles, where Chetan Anand and P. Kashyap carry Indian hopes, Gopi says, “gold looks difficult since Chong Wei Lee is around.”
Tough for Indians
The Indians will face a strong challenge (for the lesser medals) from England's Rajiv Ouseph, Adam Smith, Malaysia's Muhammad Hafiz Hashim and Singapore's Zi Liang Derek Wong.
Looking at the doubles events, Gopi says, “We have a chance of a medal in all three doubles. Roopesh (Kumar) and Sanave (Thomas) will have to raise the bar in the men's doubles, where the Malaysians will be an obvious favourite and the English pair is marginally stronger (than the Indian duo).
“In women's doubles, don't be surprised if Jwala and Ashwini (Ponappa) go all the way. On paper, the pairs from Malaysia and Singapore are higher ranked but the Indian girls are good enough to win.
“Diju and Jwala (likely to be second seeds behind the British mixed doubles combination of Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork) will have plenty of work to do since the rivals from Singapore, Canada and Malaysia, too, are not too far behind,” says Gopi.
The squad, currently practising at Hyderabad, will reach here on Thursday and resume training at the Siri Fort Complex the following day. “We chose to continue our work at Hyderabad since that helped us save travelling time, lessen transportation worries, etc. Now that every member is raring to go, a couple of days of training at the venue should be enough,” concludes a confident and optimistic Gopi.