Olympic badminton: Saina best bet for a medal
London, July 27 – Saina Nehwal begins her pursuit of a badminton medal at the London Olympics Sunday and her first-round opponent in the three-player preliminary group is Swiss Sabrina Jaquet.
At the Beijing Games four years ago, Saina was stopped a round before the medal stage in the quarters by Indonesian Maria Kristin Yulianti, who went on to take the bronze.
It was a big achievement for the 18-year-old Saina then. This time around she is seeded fourth and she is seen as a definite medal prospect. She is determined, too, and even the draw looks kind to her, though she herself believes that there is nothing called easy round at major international events.
“The draw looks quite tough. I’ve played them before and they have given me a tough challenge. I expect good matches and I will take one match at a time,” Saina told IANS.
“I have developed as a player. This is my second Olympics and I am more experienced now and I know how to relax. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” said the 22-year-old.
The ace shuttler, who recently won the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier, is expected to face stiff challenge from groupmate Belgian Lianne Tan and two-time All England champion Tine Baun of Denmark in a possible quarter-final clash. She has a 3-3 head-to-head record against Baun.
If Saina is through to the medal round, she will run into World No.1 Yihan Wang in the semis and she has never beaten the Chinese in their five encounters.
“Let us see what happens. I will give my 100 percent in every match,” Saina said when asked if she was confident of beating Wang this time.
In the men’s singles, Indonesia Open Super Series Premier semi-finalist Parupalli Kashyap will be in action Saturday against Yuhan Tan of Belgium. The other player in his group is 10th-seeded Vietnamese Nguyen Tien Min. It is going to be tough for the Indian to enter the round of 16 where his likely opponent will be Kenichi Tago of Japan, seeded eighth.
However, doubles specialists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa cannot be taken lightly as at this very Wembley Arena they won their World Championship bronze medal last year. They have been placed with fourth seeds Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa of Japan.
In doubles, two of four teams from each group are to advance to the quarter-finals and the Indian duo can look for a medal provided they play to their potential.
In the mixed doubles, Jwala and V. Diju are in Group C along with three other teams, including Indonesia’s third seeds Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir.