Here is a look at the shuttlers, who would be either looking to better the colour of the medal or create a breakthrough in their respective categories in the competition, starting July 24 at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza.
1. PV Sindhu (Women’s Singles)
Sindhu transcended all expectations and became a household name after her unprecedented run at the Rio Olympics, where she went a step ahead of her senior pro Saina Newhal’s London bronze medal with a first-ever silver on debut.
Five years have passed since then and the 26-year-old Sindhu will look to use her experience to bring home India’s first gold in badminton. Since Rio, the Hyderabad shuttler has consistently reached the finals of major events, including the 2017 World Championship, where she played the second-longest match of women’s singles, clocking 110minutes in the summit clash against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara.
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She settled for a silver and a year later again had to be satisfied with another runner-up finish at the World Championship in Nanjing, after going down to Olympic champion Carolina Marin. She also made it to the summit clashes of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in 2018 but her failure to cross the final hurdle briefly got her the choker’s tag.
But a relentless Sindhu shed it by becoming the only Indian shuttler to claim the season-ending World Tour Finals in 2018 and a year later lay claim to the World Championship title in Basel. She will enter Tokyo as the favourite to win the gold, especially after the withdrawal of injured Marin, who had stopped her run last time.
However, in the run-up to the Olympics, Sindhu didn’t have a great outing this year with just one final appearance at the Swiss Open and a semifinal finish at All England as both ended with demoralising losses against Marin and Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong.
But Sindhu has always been a big match player and says she has worked on her weak defence under new foreign coach Park Tae-sang to be in the best shape for the Olympics.
A look at the draw and Sindhu shouldn’t have any problem in getting across Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi (ranked 34th) and Israel’s Ksenia Polikarpova (ranked 58th) and top Group J. Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt, whom she is likely to meet in pre-quarters, should also not pose much of a trouble, given Sindhu’s superior 4-1 record.
A win is expected to put her face-to-face with World No. 5 Japanese star Akane Yamaguchi, whom she has beaten at All England recently. Sindhu might cross swords with world no 1 Taiwanese Tai Tzu Ying, one whom Park considers her fiercest rival if she can cross this hurdle.
2. B Sai Praneeth (Men’s Singles)
Making his debut at the Olympics, the immensely-gifted Praneeth will be one of the dark horses and might spring a surprise at the world’s biggest stage with his reservoir of talent. Praneeth had walked out of the shadow of his illustrious compatriots such as Sindhu, Saina, and Kidambi Srikanth with a maiden Super Series title at the 2017 Singapore Open but was hampered by fitness issues.
The 2019 World Championship catapulted him to the top 10 as he became the first Indian male shuttler after the legendary Prakash Padukone to return with a medal — a bronze — from the prestigious tournament. A false positive in Thailand spoilt his return to the sport following the COVID break.
He has worked on his fitness in the last few months and with a relatively easier draw at hand, he has an outside chance of bettering the quarterfinal finish of his compatriots Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap in previous Games.
It would be easier said than done considering that he needs to get the better of top contenders such as Japan’s top seed Kento Momota, Rio bronze medallist Viktor Axelsen, Taiwanese Chou Tien Chen, China’s Shi Yu Qi among others, whom, he has not beaten ever in his career.
3. Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (Men’s Doubles)
One of the most exciting men’s doubles pairs in world badminton, Chirag and Satwik have raised their bars with each passing tournament and under the guidance of former Olympic medallist coach Mathias Boe of Denmark, they are capable of writing a new chapter for Indian doubles at Olympics.
The 24-year-old Chirag from Mumbai and Satwik, 20, from Amalapuram is only the second Indian men’s pair to qualify for the Olympics and are entering the Games as underdogs. The duo had bagged India’s maiden men’s doubles silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, before going on a title run at Thailand Super 500 and a final finish at French Super 750 in 2019.
The Indian pair also reached the semifinals at Thailand Super 1000 in January this year. They also had their share of personal battles against COVID-19 as Chirag lost his grandfather in April and Satwik himself was down with the dreaded virus last year.
The duo is in a tough draw, squeezed alongside the world number one and top-seed Indonesians Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, world number three Chinese Taipei pair of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin and England’s Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in Group A.
But Chirag knows if they have to reach the knockout stages, they will have to get the better of the best and said they are up for the challenge. The badminton competition will start on July 24.