Indian singles hopefuls Saina Nehwal and P Kashyap were handed relatively easy draws for the Olympic Games badminton event. While Saina is almost assured of a place in the last 16, Kashyap has been given a tricky contender in Nguyen Tien Minh in his group, but the Indian has beaten the former top-ten player.
The draws were made in London on Monday. It consists of a group-cum-knockout format, the first time such a method is being used at the Olympics. Both men’s and women’s singles consists of 16 groups, with the group winners making the pre-quarterfinals.
In the doubles, there are four groups of four teams each, and the top two teams from each group will make it to the quarterfinals. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have a tough draw, but the mixed doubles combination of Diju V and Jwala have it even tougher. Jwala and Ashwini are paired with Yao Lei/ Shinta Sari (Singapore), Cheng Wen Hsing/ Chien Yu Chin (Taipei) and Mizuki Fujii/ Reika Kakiiwa (Japan).
Jwala and Ashwini have recorded one win in four matches against the Singapore pair (in the Commonwealth Games final), and one close loss against the Japanese pair. They also have one win in three matches against the Taipei pair. These results mean the Indians have an even chance of making it to the quarterfinals.
However, the mixed doubles combination is up against formidable odds. In the same group is the reigning Olympic champion Lee Yong Dae (with a different partner this time, in Ha Jung Eun); 2009 World Champions Thomas Laybourn / Kamilla Rytter Juhl, and reigning All England champions Tontowi Ahmad and Lilyana Natsir. To come second in this group would be an achievement in itself.
Saina is drawn with Sabrina Jacquet (Swi) and Lianne Tan of Belgium; both these players should be cannon fodder for her. Her pre-quarterfinal match could be against Group F topper Yao Jie. The Dutch veteran is a tricky player, but Saina should be able to post a comfortable win over her and make it to the quarterfinals.
Kashyap has Vietnamese Nguyen Tien Minh and Tan Yuhan in his group. Kashyap has two wins in five matches against Nguyen, who was a speedy player in his prime but is not considered so dangerous any more. Still, it might be touch-and-go, but Kashyap stands a good chance. The Belgian player, Tan Yuhan, has beaten Kashyap once before but the Indian won their last meeting recently, at the India Open in April.