Saina should aim for nothing less than gold: Aparna

Mumbai: India`s top shuttler Saina Nehwal
should aim for nothing less than fetching the country its
first women`s gold medal at next month`s Delhi Commonwealth
Games, according to her predecessor Aparna Popat.

"She has to go for the gold medal. Nothing less will do.
I don`t think anyone can beat her (to the singles title),"
said Aparna who carved a niche twelve years ago when the Games
were first held in the Asian continent - in Malaysia.

"I expect some challenge from players of Malaysia and
Singapore, but not much. They may reach the semis but I feel
Saina has the best chance (to win the gold). Not only me but
every one would be disappointed if she does not clinch the
(women`s singles) gold medal," the former shuttler told reporters.

India have never won a gold medal in women`s singles in
past Games. Both their badminton singles gold medals have been
fetched by men - Prakash Padukone in 1978 at Edmonton (Canada)
and the late Syed Modi in 1982 at Brisbane (Australia).

The 32-year-old Aparna, administrative manager of Indian
Oil, won a silver medal when she lost to Kelly Morgan of Wales
in the final of the Kuala Lumpur Games in 1998. She also
helped the women`s team win the bronze.

Aparna, who went on to win another individual bronze in
the next Games at Manchester and lost in the quarter finals of
the Melbourne Games four years ago before retiring from the
shuttle game, expects a haul of at least four badminton medals
from the October 3-14 Games.

Aparna feels India also have a very good chance to strike
gold in all the three doubles events.

"Jwala (Gutta) and (V) Diju have a good chance in mixed
doubles. Sanave (Thomas) and Rupesh (Kumar) (men`s) as well as
Jwala and Ashwini (Ponnappa) (women`s) - all have good chance.
In fact everyone has a good chance," said Aparna who foresees
a clutch of medals for the hosts in badminton.

"We should aim for four-plus medals. They need to play
well," said the former eight-time national singles champion.

Talking about her own experience at the three CWGs she
took part in, Aparna said mingling with the Indian cricket
team and staying in the same apartment complex with the
cricketers was a memorable experience in Kuala Lumpur.

"That was my first multi-discipline event. The Indian
cricket team was there. They were staying above us in the same
building. Sachin Tendulkar was there and Anil Kumble came to
the badminton hall to see a few matches we played. It was a
memorable experience," she recalled.

Aparna said India had a pretty big badminton team as the
format was different with the men`s and women`s team
championships were held separately unlike the current mixed

The former shuttle queen said she did not expect to win
the silver in that edition.

"I still remember the final against Kelly, who at that
time, was playing very well even against the top players of
the world. The first game was close and there was a debatable
line call. I went there expecting to play well, put my best
foot forward, that`s all," she said.

Aparna said the coaching camp at Bangalore prior to the
1998 Games and shuttle legend Prakash`s presence as coach
helped the team a lot in clinching four medals at Kuala

"We had Prakash Padukone as coach and had a camp in
Bangalore prior to the Games. There was lot of team spirit and
camaraderie. We gelled well as a team and got four medals,"
she remembered.

Aparna feels the standard of badminton in Commonwealth
Games is considerably less than what a player encountered in
the World Championships and Olympic Games or even the Asian

"The levels are lower than what players encounter in the
world championships or even at the Asian Games because
badminton is a strong suit among Asian countries," she said.


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