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Asian Games 2023: From Rohan Bopanna to Sharath Kamal, top Indian athletes gearing up for one last hurrah

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India is sending a contingent of 655 athletes for the Asian Games 2023 which officially kicks off on 23 September in Hangzhou, China. India won a record 70 medals in the 2018 Asian Games including 16 gold and they will be hoping for a much better performance this time around.

A number of top performers including tennis ace Rohan Bopanna, hockey great P R Sreejesh and TT legend Sharath Kamal who are favourites to win medals are also gearing up for one last hurrah at the Asian Games.

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Both Sharath and Rohan are still pulling off world class performances in their 40s while 35-year-old Sreejesh remains the proverbial wall of the Indian hockey team.

The other big names who are expected to say goodbye to the continental event include wrestling veteran Bajrang Punia, squash star Dipika Pallikal, tennis player Ankita Raina and discus thrower Seema Punia.

All of them might be in the twilight of their careers but remain medal contenders at the Games. Here’s a look at their chances ahead of the quadrennial event, which was delayed by one year due to COVID-19.

Rohan Bopanna

 ArtsmithRohan Bopanna is defending champion in men’s doubles at Asian Games. Image: Artsmith

The 43-year-old tennis veteran is turning the clock back with his exploits on the men’s doubles circuit this year. Having made the semifinals and final of Wimbledon and US Open respectively this season, the big serving Indian is showing age is just a number.

Only yesterday, he made a bid adieu to the Davis Cup on a winning note and would be expected to do the same in the men’s doubles event in China.

Bopanna, who made his Asian Games debut way back in 2002, goes into the tournament as the defending champion, having won the doubles gold alongside Divij Sharan in the 2018 edition. He could partner Yuki Bhambri in Hangzhou.

Sharath Kamal

India, 2022 Commonwealth GamesIndia’s Sharath Kamal Achanta won the 2022 Commonwealth Games table tennis gold at 40. AP

The 41-year-old table tennis ace will look to add to his surprise two Asian Games medals in his fifth and final appearance. Last year, he was among the stand out players in the Commonwealth Games, where he won as many as three gold medals.

The lead up to the Asian Games has not been the smoothest for him but one can expect him to raise his game when the stakes are high.

The men’s team bronze in the last edition had ended a 60-year wait for a table tennis medal at the Asian Games and that event remains India’s best bet.

Competition in Asian Games is much higher than the CWG and the trio of Sharath, G Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai would be aiming to match its recent performance at the Asian Championships where it earned a bronze.

Sharath had picked up an unexpected bronze with Manika Batra in the previous edition in Jakarta but the female star will be be paring with up Sathiyan on this occasion.

Ankita Raina

She will be another medal contender on the tennis court. The 30-year-old became only the second Indian female tennis player after Sania Mirza to win a singles medal at the Asian Games when she secured a bronze in the 2018 edition.

Besides a bagful of doubles medals, Sania managed to win a singles silver and bronze in Asian Games. Raina is also likely to feature in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles event.

PR Sreejesh

Even at 35, PR Sreejesh remains India’s best goalkeeper. JSW Sports/ Twitter

By his own admission, the veteran goalkeeper is taking one tournament at a time at the fag end of his career. The upcoming Asian Games is definitely Sreejesh’s last shot at the continental showpiece and he will be giving his all to help India claim the gold and qualify directly for next year’s Paris Olympics.

He has registered 301 international caps so far after making his India debut in 2006. He played a major part in India winning an Olympic medal after four decades and his form will be crucial if the team is to regain the gold after settling for a disappointing bronze in Jakarta five years ago.

Sreejesh will continue to share goalkeeping duties with the much younger Krishan Bahadur Pathak.

Dipika Pallikal

The mother of two is certainly competing in her fourth and last Asian Games. The 32-year-old, who has two singles and as many team medals to her name at Asian Games, will only be seen in the mixed doubles event alongside Harinderpal Sandhu.

The former world number 10 and Sandhu had an ideal build up to the Games by winning the test event in Hangzhou in June.

Following the birth of her twins, Dipika had won two world doubles title alongside Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal (mixed) last year. She followed it up with a mixed doubles bronze in the Commonwealth Games and is determined to end her Asian Games career with another medal.

Bajrang Punia

The 29-year-old champion wrestler will be making his first appearance on the mat after leading the protest against former WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for alleged sexual harassment of female wrestlers.

All eyes will be on the seasoned pro who will take the mat to defend his 65kg title in China. The Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist will be making his third appearance at the Asian Games. Before the gold in Jakarta, he had secured silver in the 2014 edition.

Seema Punia

Seema Punia will be using a discus made by India based Bhalla International. AP PhotoIndia will be hoping for another medal from Seema Punia. AP Photo

The 40-year-old discus thrower has managed to win a gold and bronze in the previous two editions. The CWG in Birmingham last year was a disappointment as she failed to win a medal after doing so in the past four editions. Asian Games will be her last chance to end on the podium.

With PTI inputs

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