Special Correspondent

BANGALORE: Anup Sridhar and Saina Nehwal will be the Indian contenders in the badminton event of the Olympics at Beijing. The two made the cut on the basis of being the top-ranked Indian players on the Badminton World Federation’s list.

Anup Sridhar, who was on a career high of 24, has slipped to 33, but still remained the country’s No. 1 player while the National champion Saina Nehwal, ranked 30, is top ranked in the women’s section.

Ready for the challenge

At a media interaction organised by GoSport, which is managing his career, Anup Sridhar said he was excited to play at Beijing and was ready for it.

“I am fully fit and have recovered from my injury and hope to do my best at Beijing. Yes, I was disappointed with the performance at the Asian Badminton Championship but then it was my major meet after my recovery. I am happy with the way I am playing now and prior to the Olympics, I will be playing in the Singapore, Indonesian and Thailand Open events,” said Sridhar.

Anup also acknowledged the role of the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy, where he had been training for the past 14 years.

“What I am today, is due to the efforts of the TPBA and my mentors, Prakash Sir and Vimal Kumar and all other staff of the academy,” he added. He also thanked his parents, employer BPCL, his sponsors SLK Software and Yonex, for their support.

Padukone’s hope

Prakash Padukone, while praising Anup Sridhar for qualifying for the Olympics, also urged him to live up to the expectations.

“Anup has grown with our academy and he was one of our first students, when we started out in 1994. He has done exceedingly well, but qualifying for Olympics is only a first step and he now carries a lot of responsibility as the expectations of a nation rest heavily on him.

“He has the talent to defeat the best players in the world and I hope he puts up a medal winning show at Beijing,” said Padukone.

Padukone also advised his ward that he should focus on one match at a time, instead of thinking too much about the future.

Great chance

Sridhar’s travelling coach, Tom John of England who has been with him for the past three months was confident that his trainee stands a great chance, given the format of the game. “Given the restricted field, each match becomes important, irrespective of the draw or seedings. Talent and technique wise, he has the ability to beat the best and the key is to keep himself in peak physical condition during the event,” said the coach.

Our Principal Correspondent adds from Hyderabad:

Saina thrilled

Saina Nehawal was delighted at having qualified for the Beijing Olympics.

“I am thrilled at the news and at the same time also aware of the huge responsibility and the expectations,” a beaming Saina remarked. “There will be pressure but if I start thinking on those lines, my game will suffer. I can only try my best and hope to come up with creditable performances,” she said.

Now training under former All-England champion and India’s chief National coach Pullela Gopi Chand, Saina is aware that she has not really performed to her potential of late despite becoming the first Indian a couple of years ago to win the Philippines tournament.

“Right now I am focussed on the immediate challenge and I am happy that my coach (Gopi) is making me work really hard to smoothen the rough edges in my game,” she said.

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