Gopichand confident of good show (pic)


Indian badminton coach Pullela Gopichand is confident of a good performance from the shuttlers, provided they can handle the pressures of their maiden Olympic appearance and the huge crowd here.

Speaking after the initial training sessions of the Indian duo of Anup Sridhar and Saina Nehwal in Beijing Thursday, Gopichand said the two had enough experience of playing in South East Asian countries and were capable of handling the pressures. Image
Gopi, one of the only two Indians to have won the All England singles titles, said, "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."

On the duo playing before big local crowds, Gopi said: "I'm sure with our players having played in Indonesia, Malaysia and even China for a long time, they can handle it. They are used to playing in front of crowds supportive of the home team, so we are not too bothered by it."

Sridhar, who is coming back from an injury, said the stint with his new coach Tom John of Great Britain has been good. "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 he (John) has done a good job of keeping me physically fit. I feel really strong."

He then added: "I had a bit of a hiccup with the twisted ankle. I am working really hard to get fit as I showed on-court today. 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."

Sridhar engaged John soon after getting a berth in the Olympic Games.

He was also looking forward to playing in an Olympic atmosphere. "I have played the Commonwealth Games and the Asian games and the atmosphere was fantastic. I am guessing this can only be better."

On playing against Chinese opponents in China, Sridhar added, "I really hope I get a match where I am playing against the Chinese. That would be really something special. To play against the Chinese and the crowd would really be fun."

Both Sridhar and Nehwal have fairly favourable draws. Nehwal, now world number 15, will face 30th ranked Russian Ella Karachkova in the first round. If she clears the maiden hurdles, she will meet the winner of the tie between Ukraine's world number 27 Gryga Larisa and Italy's Allegrini Agnese, ranked 55th.

Should Nehwal progress further, the 18-year-old could run into world number six Chen Wang of Hong Kong in the pre-quarters.

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

In the men's singles, Sridhar, ranked 29th, will have an easy first round where he meets Portugal's Marco Vasconcelos who is 60 places behind the Indian. But the going after the first round will be tough.

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.

For a place in the quarters, Sridhar might have to thwart a challenge from world number eight and tournament eighth seed Danish Peter Gade.

If he can overcome the injury and show full fitness when he gets on to the court, Sridhar could bring about an upset or two. 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, who 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, rode on his superb form to reach a career-high ranking of 24 in March before the injury affected his standing.

World number one China's Lin Dan is the top seed, immediately followed by world number two Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia.

The Chinese team has set a target of winning all the five badminton gold medals on home soil, improving upon the three top podium finishes at Athens. The badminton tournament takes place from August 9-17.

A total of 173 players in 50 teams are competing for the badminton competition being held from August 9-17.

The men's singles will have 41 players, women's singles 47, and the men's, women's and mixed doubles will have 16 pairs respectively.


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