India's badminton campaign at the Hangzhou Asian Games is set to begin from Thursday with men's and women's team events... and a high dose of hope.
India has never won an Asiad gold medal in badminton, one of the most successful international sports of the country. It won't be easy this time around either, with hosts China being the most dominant force in the sport.
But the hope is not unfounded.
After all, India are the reigning world champions in men's team, having won a historic first Thomas Cup title in 2022. And the core of that team will be in action in Hangzhou, with even more experience now.
The men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are the reigning Asian champions, having won the title in April and HS Prannoy is coming off a first World Championships medal, enjoying the form of is life.
But even if India don't manage gold, a men's team medal will end a drought that goes back to 1986. The draw, released on Wednesday, helps this in a big way all but ensuring a medal.
Meet the squad:
India's Asian Games squad was named in May after a round of selection trials where higher-players ranked were exempt. The highlight was Kidambi Srikanth beating Lakshya Sen which saw him make the individual event. Lakshya has since hit good form while Srikanth has been erratic.
Men's singles: HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth (individual/team), Lakshya Sen and Mithun Manjunath (team).
Men's doubles: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty and Dhruv Kapila/MR Arjun (individual/team).
Women's singles: PV Sindhu and Ashmita Chaliha (individual/team), Anupama Upadhyaya and Malvika Bansod (team).
Women's doubles: Gayatri Gopichand/Treesa Jolly and Ashwini Ponnappa/Tanisha Crasto (individual/team). Mixed doubles: Rohan Kapoor /N Sikki Reddy and Sai Pratheek K/Tanisha Crasto.
What is India's draw like?
Right now, only the team events draw is released and it's a largely good one.
The Indian men's team has a first-round bye by virtue of their higher rank and will start directly from the quarterfinal. Their opponents -- the winner of Mongolia vs Nepal. Beat them and assure a medal. Easy does it.
The first real test will be the semifinal, where they will likely play one of Indonesia or Malaysia -- all strong opponents.
Indonesia were India's opponents in the Thomas Cup final and have a strong line-up with world no. 2 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and the world no. 2 men's doubles pair of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto in its team.
The Malaysian men's team are the Commonwealth Games champions, having beaten India in Birmingham last year in the final. If India somehow manage to reach the gold medal match, then it's fair to assume that their opponents will hosts China. Can anyone beat the Chinese team in badminton in China? We will know soon.
The women's team, on the other hand, will likely face a tougher test for medal. They had last won a team Asiad medal in 2014, with Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu leading the charge.
The current team is inexperienced in comparison and the recent form of Sindhu and the women's doubles pair of Treesa-Gayatri is cause for concern.
They start their campaign from the first round, taking on Mongolia. In the quarterfinal, they will face the might of Thailand, who have a first round bye.
A win would guarantee a medal, but it would require the team to click together. Thailand are without their top singles player, Ratchanok Intanon, who ended her season early with injury. Still, they have enough depth with three other players in the Top 20 - Pornpawee Chochuwong, Busanan Ongbamrungphan and Supanida Katethong. A peak Sindhu would have been a sure shot here and the hope remains that she can find her form at a big event again.
If India reach the semis, they will run into South Korea, who are led by singles world No 1 An Se Young and doubles world No 2 Lee So-hee and Baek Ha-na - both in red-hot form.
The team event though will give the Indians some match time in Hangzhou, which will help once the individual events - which hold points in the Olympics qualification cycle - begins from October 1.