Saina to start her Olympic badminton campaign Saturday (Preview)

August 8th, 2008 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 8 (IANS) The limelight is all on shooters and boxers and that will allow India’s top shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Anup Sridhar to quietly focus on their Olympic campaign, starting here Saturday. World No. 15 Saina will face 30th ranked Russian Ella Karachkova in the first round at the Beijing University of Technology gymnasium on the opening day. If she clears the first hurdle, she will meet the winner of the tie between Ukraine’s world number 27 Gryga Larisa and Italy’s Allegrini Agnese, ranked 55th.

If the 18-year-old Hyderabadi progresses urther, she could run into world number six Chen Wang of Hong Kong in the pre-quarters.

Saina has lost twice to Chen, but her recent form does raise hopes of an upset which could bring her close to a medal finish. Saina gave a tough fight to Chinese world number one Xie Xingfang in Thailand Open last month.

Saina is playing her first Olympics, but the way the teenager has shaped her career since bursting onto the international scene with the Philippines Open title in her very first appearance in 2006, she can certainly turn the draw topsy-turvy.

In two years, Saina has made some of the world’s best names bite the dust and even had the audacity to challenge the authority of Chinese dominance. After her high in 2006 when she cracked the top-50 of world rankings, Saina found the going tough in her second year on the circuit in 2007.

But the Pullela Gopichand protégé came back hard this year and if the build-up to the Games is any indication, Saina should cause a few upsets.

Saina stunned higher ranked shuttlers, becoming the first Indian to reach the semi-finals in the Singapore Open and later reached the quarterfinals in the Thailand open earlier this year which took her ranking high up to 15.

Sridhar is likely to meet world number 16 Shoji Sato of Japan in the round of 32. Sato, who went out of contention at that stage in the 2004 Olympics, has had a long-standing rivalry with the 25-year-old Indian. Sridhar enjoys a 3-2 win-loss record over Sato.

World no. 29 Sridhar will have an easy first round where he meets Portugal’s Marco Vasconcelos, who is 60 places behind the Indian in the first round Sunday. But the going after the first round will be tough.

Sridhar had a breakthrough year in 2007, when he reached the last 16 of the World Championships in Kuala Lumpur and the semi-finals of the Asian championships and the German Open. Sridhar beat Indonesia’s Olympic gold medallist Taufik Hidayat and former All England champion Hafiz Hashim of Malaysia and gave world champion Lin Dan a big scare in Kuala Lumpur. Riding on his superb form he reached a career-high ranking of 24 in March before an ankle injury pulled him down on the ranking roaster.

“The last four months have been hard work for me with a couple of injuries here and there. I’ve been trying to stay fit through all of it and my new coach Tom John has done a good job of keeping me physically fit.

“I had a bit of a hiccup with the twisted ankle. I’m almost fully fit. I just need to get a slight problem with the Achilles (tendon) sorted out, but I think I can get there.”

National Coach Gopichand though is realistic about his wards chances in Beijing.

“They (Anup and Saina) are very young. It is the first Olympics for both of them. I think the pressure will be the key issue and it depends on how they react to it. But they have done some preparation and had decent results.”

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