Saina capable of winning gold: Parupalli Kashyap


I am very excited even though I am not going to Rio. With every Olympics, more and more Indian shuttlers are qualifying. India is becoming a powerhouse in badminton. More people will be encouraged to take up badminton. I will specially shout for the men’s doubles pair. Doubles needs to improve in India and Olympics is a perfect form of encouragement for all the doubles players in India.I will start with the men’s doubles pair of Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri. Special congratulations to them for being the first Indian men’s doubles pair to qualify for Olympics. That is a big achievement. I know Sumeeth from the time he started playing badminton. He is not one of the most skilful players but he is a true example of what one can achieve through sheer hard work and determination. His never-say-die-attitude has stood out and I have learnt a lot from him, although he is junior to me. I admire him. He had serious back injuries that forced him to shift from singles to doubles. To win nationals and qualify for the Olympics is one of the greatest achievements, especially in men’s doubles.His partner Manu and he have been doing well together for a while. Olympic qualification was very tough for them. They played in so many tournaments and finally achieved it. They will be called Olympians. That is a great achievement for the country. They have set very good example for youngsters to take up doubles.As far as their chances are concerned, it will be very tough. Doubles is a draw of 16 and the top 16 pairs in the world will vie for the gold medal. Singles is a draw of 64. Even if you don’t do well in one match, you have chance from the other two matches.Manu and Sumeeth are the clear underdogs. They have nothing to lose. It is their first Olympics and it will be a great experience. I hope they train well in the days leading up to the Olympics. You never know, they can get some good wins and I wish them the best. It is a very tough ask on them to win a medal.FOR JWALA-ASHWINI, EXPERIENCE COUNTSJwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa are a very experienced pair. They have already won a World Championship medal and came almost close to winning another in 2015 in Jakarta before losing in the quarterfinals. Jwala is very experienced and has always done well in big events like Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Thomas-Uber Cups.Ashwini is one of the best players in the world. She is technically so good. And together, they form a very strong pair. Jwala is tactically sound on the court and Ashwini has one of the hardest smashes in women’s doubles. They already have the experience of playing in an Olympics (2012 London). That will count. For first-timers, Olympics is such a big event that sometimes you may get carried away by the occasion. Jwala and Ashwini will focus more on the tournament. They have an outside chance of a medal but it depends on how they train and how they feel during the Olympics. Even though their results in the last few Superseries have not been good, I would still say that in big events, Jwala and Ashwini have come up with their best game.SINDHU CAN BEAT THE BEST ON HER DAYPV Sindhu has got some good results in the past year, reached Superseries final (Denmark, October 2015), and she has consistently been in the top 15. She has always been there, reaching quarterfinals. She has the capability of beating many good players on her day. She has nothing to lose. I hope her preparation goes well in the coming weeks and she is at her fittest. She has got a good chance of a medal, for she has beaten the top players. Although she has not won any Superseries this season, rankings and tournament victories don’t matter at the Olympics. It just becomes a different event. Sometimes, I feel post Olympics, after two-three months, you realise how big a tournament you have played in and that puts to shade all the other Superseries events.The effect of Olympics is huge. Out of the seven shuttlers who have qualified for India, Sindhu has two bronze medal in the World Championships. That will give her confidence. She lost in semifinals in CWG 2014 when she was expected to win. In her next tournament, she won World Championships bronze. That is a big jump if you compare bronze in CWG and bronze in Worlds. That is what she is capable of. You never know how Sindhu will turn up. She is capable of beating the top eight players.In Olympics, women’s singles is a little open. That said, Sindhu is not expected to win Olympic gold. For gold, the main contenders are Saina Nehwal, Ratchanok Intanon, the Chinese (two of Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan and Wang Shixian), Carolina Marin, Nozomi Okuhara among others. There are seven-eight players who are capable of winning gold. I wold love to see Saina win gold, that will be the ultimate thing. I think Sindhu has an outside chance of winning a medal. She has shown the results before also. She is like the dark horse, anything can be expected of her.FOR SRIKANTH, OPPONENTS DON’T MATTERI am very happy that in Kidambi Srikanth’s last tournament, he reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. It’s a big confidence booster for him. After a long time, after losing in the initial rounds, he won the Syed Modi GP in Lucknow earlier this year. He reached the final of Indonesia (December 2015). He had a tough time with the draws. In about seven Superseries, he played the same Chinese player –Tian Houwei – in the first round four times (Korea Open, September 2015; French Open, October 2015, Hong Kong Open, November 2015; India Open, March 2016), and lost. Srikanth must be relieved that Houwei will not be at the Olympics.Keeping that aside, he is similar to Sindhu. He is capable of beating top players. He has got that game, his attitude is very aggressive, doesn’t matter who the opponent is. I hope he is fully fit. If he gets a good draw, he has an outside chance despite the tough field. Sindhu and Srikanth are similar as far as their chances of winning a medal goes. They are capable of anything.SAINA, THE TENDULKAR OF BADMINTONObviously, everyone expects Saina to win a medal and she has been proving that for the last so many years. Every year, she gets a couple of Superseries wins and she is in the top five rankings forever. She dropped out of five before returning to fifth. She has been injured since November last year. After the China Open, where she reached the final, she had issues with her achilles and ankle. That was tough on her. During Premier Badminton League (PBL), she was not at her best. She worked really hard at it and started to be consistent. She reached the semifinals in Swiss Open (March 2016), India Open, Malaysia Open, (both April 2016) and the Asia Championships, where she won a medal.She is in a perfect mindset to prepare for the Olympics after winning the Australian Open last month convincingly. That was an awesome victory for her. She is the Sachin Tendulkar of badminton. The whole country is expecting her to win a medal. You can imagine the amount of pressure on her. She works so hard.I feel she can win a medal. Not just any medal but the gold. I hope everything goes well for her during the Olympics. It is very easy to say but it is such an open event, especially the women’s singles. In men’s singles, there is Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long. You hear only these three names as gold medal contenders. In women’s singles, you can name eight. It is a very open event in women’s singles and Saina is one of the top contenders. I hope she is in her best mindset and form. She can better her medal from London, for sure.She will manage the pressure of expectations. She has her ways. The best option is not to think about it and focus on practice sessions. And, enjoy them. We spend months and months in practice thinking about a tournament, and the tournament ends in a week. If you don’t enjoy the preparation, how will you enjoy the tournament? She needs to stay away from everything.2020 OLYMPICS IS A POSSIBILITY FOR MEPersonally for me, it’s a major setback not to be going to Rio. I got injured, got a serious calf muscle tear in October 2015. I got back in December and played PBL, where I was at 20-30 per cent of my level. Post PBL, I reached quarterfinals of Lucknow tournament, where I was probably 50-60 per cent. Then I suffered an abdominal injury. I returned from it and was feeling fit and trained the whole of February. The first tournament I played after that, I slipped and injured, twisting my knee. There was no explanation for that. I was trying to find out what happened and what can be better. That is how I deal with every situation. That has been my thought process. This time, I did not have any explanation. It was out of my control. Looking back six months and asking myself could I have done anything different so that I did not face these injuries? I did not have any answer.It took time for me to understand and let go, to make peace with it and start training. I got surgery done, my knee feels better. I feel blessed that I have a chance to play again.Olympics is such a big event. I was competing for it, until the injury in March. I was happy I was competing for it. Here, I am thankful for the constant support of my coach Pullela Gopichand sir and the support of Sports Authority of India, Olympic Gold Quest besides Indian Oil Corporation, all of whom have been a pillar of support even during my injury period.Before the injuries in 2015, I was among the top eight in the world. That shows what I am capable of. If I am keeping my body fit, if I am training well, training precisely, next Olympics is a possibility. If Lin Dan (32), Lee Chong Wei (33), Hu Yun (34), Nan Wei (32), Lee Hyun Il and so many other players who at 32, 33 and 34 are chasing their Olympic dream, it is surely possible for me. The game has changed, the points format has changed. They understand their body better, they are scientifically training to maintain their body for a longer time. For me, 2020 is a possibility.For me, right now, I just want to get back to circuit and playing in tournaments. I don’t want to think that far. My ranking has dropped to beyond 69 (as on June 30) and would drop further to 90 and beyond by September, by which time I start playing.I just wish all the participants well. I hope everyone gives his/her best performance and hope we get maximum number of medals possible. That will do a world of good for Indian badminton.OLYMPICS OVERSHADOWS EVERYTHING ELSEThe 2012 London Olympics was an amazing experience for me. The qualification was so tough. My fight with Ajay Jayaram was pretty tough. We both were not playing so well in the qualification process, probably because of pressure or playing too many tournaments and not being fit. Finally, I qualified. I realised that I was so lucky and really worked hard on my fitness and training. Before the Olympics, I beat Chen Long in the Indonesia Open and reached the semifinals. That gave me the confidence going into the Olympics.I gave one of my best performances during the Games. I beat Tim Minh Nguyen and then Sri Lanka’s Nikunka Karunaratne. He was an underdog but he beat Kenichi Tago of Japan in the group stage. He was a tricky customer. The match was topsy-turvy. I won the first game convincingly. The second game, he started retrieving, he was tough. I was going out of breath, the rallies were going crazy. By the third game, he got tired.The Olympic experience helped me for a couple of years. When I lost to Lee Chong Wei, it was a tough fight. He was physically better than me. I later got to know that I became the first Indian to enter Olympics quarterfinals. That said, in 2012 Olympics, we shuttlers did not stay at the Games Village, which was far away from the badminton venue. We stayed at a hotel close to the stadium in London. The feel was similar to a Superseries tournament. You were amongst only badminton players. The feel of the Games, the Village, meeting sportspersons from different countries was missing as we were away from the Village. Probably, it helped me reach quarterfinals.Post Olympics, I ended the season in the top-10 for the next two years. The whole Olympic experience was immense that the other tournaments and super series were looking mediocre before the Olympics. Since 2008, the Olympic sports have become popular in India. Badminton has grown so much. I feel lucky and blessed to be part of that Olympic team and to be an Olympian.I hope all those who have qualified for India experience it fully, give their all and enjoy the moment. It is a lifetime experience. Until you quit playing badminton, these are the memories that last for the rest of your life. The Olympics, Asian Games, CWG are once in four years, so in your career you get to play in a few of them. You might play four such Games in a span of 16 years if you are extremely good. Even if you play in two or three, that is rare in a sportsperson’s career. Not so with World Championships, which is yearly. In 10 years, you may play in eight World Championships and innumerable Superseries.(The writer is the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist and was India’s best male shuttler until injuries bothered him in the last nine months. He was in contention for his second successive Olympics in Rio after becoming the first Indian shuttler to enter quarterfinals in Olympics in 2012. He is currently recuperating from a knee surgery and is targeting a return to action in September 2016. He will be following India at the Rio Olympics as a media pundit)

148 total views, 1 views today