Focus on PV Sindhu But Doubles Key to India Retaining Mixed Team Gold

Star shuttles including PV Sindhu will be chasing singles golds but doubles would also be in the spotlight as India look to retain the mixed team title and continue their steady run at the Commonwealth Games.

Since Dinesh Khanna won India’s first badminton medal – a bronze medal at the quadrennial event in 1966 – the country has accumulated 25 medals, including seven gold medals, based on individual brilliance.

At the last edition on the Gold Coast, the Indian players were on fire, winning an unprecedented six medals, including two golds.

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In the individual competition, the coveted yellow metal will again be a target not only for two-time Olympic gold medalist Sindhu, but also for World Championships silver and bronze medalists Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen.

Also Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will be keen to change the color of the silver they won in their 2018 CWG debut.

More than individual medals, however, the focus this time is on India’s performance in the mixed team event.

On the Gold Coast, a young Indian team managed to pull the rug out from under the mighty Malaysians and emerge as champions for the first time.

Overall, India still ranks third in the list of medalists, with England (8-time winners) and Malaysia (5-time champions) occupying the top two spots with 109 and 64 medals respectively.

So India still have a long way to go to establish themselves as the dominant force, but they want to prove that 2018 was no fluke when they open their campaign in Group 1, which consists of Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

While entry into the knockout stages is a formality, the actual testing only begins from the quarter-finals.

With the format comprising two singles and three doubles, Sindhu, Sen and Srikanth are expected to pick up two points for India, but it’s the doubles players that count, particularly the world No. 8 men’s pairing Chirag and Satwik.

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While the Chirag-Satwik pair enter the tournament after playing a key role in the epic Thomas Cup win in India, the women’s and mixed pairings are new combinations and haven’t had much playing time.

Gayatri Gopichand and Tressa Jolly qualified after coming out on top in April’s selection process. But the duo skipped most Asian leg events after Trials as Gayatri was nursing an injury. Returning at the Malaysia Masters, the duo were sent home by world No. 11 Tan Pearly and Thinaah Muralitharan in straight matches.

The Malaysian duo will once again stand in their way throughout the nearly two-week tournament.

Ashwini Ponnappa, who will be in her fourth CWG, was one of the reasons India won the mixed team gold as she shared a crucial point with Satwik in the final.

But this time the 32-year-old from Coorg has formed a mixed doubles with B Sumeeth Reddy. The duo have plenty of experience, but their pairing is new and it will be a difficult task to tame the world No. 1. 8 Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying.

On paper, Chirag and Satwik have better chances of beating world No. 6 Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik despite losing to the Malaysian pair at the Asian Badminton Championships. Satwik, the 21-year-old from Amalapuram, also pulled a muscle at the Malaysia Open and it remains to be seen how he’s doing his job.

At individual events, Sindhu has eluded a gold medal, returning with a bronze and a silver medal in recent editions. However, she will start as a favorite for the title this time, with some competition from Canada’s world No. 1. 13 and 2014 champion Michelle Li, Scotland’s world No. 1. 18 Kristy Gilmour and Singapore’s world no. 19 Yeo JiaMin.

In the men’s singles, Lakshya and Srikanth, who created India’s epic Thomas Cup win, become enemies in the pursuit of the title. The two come into the event after recovering from some minor issues. While Sen had a minor shoulder problem in Indonesia, Srikanth was plagued by heel pain.

Srikanth missed out on the yellow metal in 2018 after going down to Lee Chong Wei in the final, while it will be a golden opportunity for All-England finalist Sen to go all the way on his Arena Birmingham debut.

The duo will face fierce opposition from world champion Loh Kean Yew and Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong, who made it into the team following the withdrawal of the world no. 5 Lee Zii Jia.

Chirag and Satwik were also in fine form with a Super 500 title at the India Open, but the two will have to face off against England’s Ben Lane and Sean Vendy alongside Aaron and Soh en route to the coveted gold.

Gayatri and Tressa, on the other hand, caused quite a stir when they shocked last year’s World Championship silver medalists, second-placed Koreans Lee Sohee and Shing Seungchan, en route to the semi-finals of the All England Championships. But the road to the podium will be tough with England pairing Chloe Birch and Lauren Smith and Canada’s world No. 1. 23 Rachel Honderich and Kristen Tsai also in action.

In the mixed doubles, Ashwini and Sumeeth must bring their individual experience to the fore in a tie boasting world No. 1. 10 pairing of Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing of Malaysia and England World No. 11 Combination of Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith.

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