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Friday, June 14, 2024

An easy draw brightens Saina's medal chances

Saina Nehwal may beg to differ, but the Olympic draw, released on Monday, brightened her medal chances.

Saina Nehwal

The Indian ace, who was wary about meeting the ever-improving Koreans, may not meet them at all. Saina, who is placed in Group E, may face her first challenge in the quarterfinals against Tine Baun of Denmark or Japan’s Sayaka Sato, provided if she wins her group and the pre-quarters against low-key opponents.If Saina loses in the semifinals — most likely against Wang Yihan — she would be facing either Wang Xin or Li Xuerui for the bronze medal. So one win against any one of the Chinese shuttlers will help her finish on the podium.”The draw is very tough. The first round may be easy but it will get tougher and tougher from the second round (pre-quarters). But yes, avoiding the Koreans is a bit of relief,” said Saina, who will be leaving for London on Tuesday morning. Jwala Gutta got a relatively easier draw in women’s doubles than in mixed doubles. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa are in Group B and need to finish in the top two in the four-member group to reach the last eight stage.The world No.20 pair stands a chance of reaching the semifinals only if they top the group, else, they may run in into reigning All England and Asian champions Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei of China in the quarters.In the mixed draw, Indians have been put in Group C along with All England champs Liliyani Natsir and Tontowi Ahmad of Indonesia and German Open winners Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark. Jwala-Diju may beat Lee Yong Dae and Ha Jung Eun of Korea but getting past the Danes and the Indonesians will be a Herculean task.Men’s singles shuttler Parupalli Kashyap is clubbed with world No.11 Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam and Yuhan Tan of Belgium. The world No.21 Indian may beat Tan with ease but downing Minh will not be easy. Even if he manages to top the group he would face world No. 8 Kenichi Togo of Japan in the second round.Chief coach Pullela Gopichand said that Saina got a comfortable draw but the doubles teams need to give their best to reach the semifinals.”It’s more or less easy for Saina till the quarters. I think she should be facing Tine in the quarters. But the mixed doubles draw is quite tough. I think Jwala-Ashwini should be reaching the quarters,” said Gopi, adding that he could have preferred to avoid world champion Yihan in the semifinals. Saina, who has never beaten Yihan so far, said that all the three Chinese – Yihan, Wang Xin and Li Xuerui — are equally talented.

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