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Asian Games: One last hurrah for these Indian icons

Source: PTI
Last updated on: September 19, 2023 04:01 IST
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Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan celebrate with their medals and plush mascots after winning the men's doubles gold at the 2018 Asian Games in Palembang, Indonesia, August 24, 2018.

IMAGE: Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan celebrate with their medals and plush mascots after winning the men's doubles tennis gold at the 2018 Asian Games in Palembang, Indonesia, August 24, 2018. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Several of India's achievers and consistent performers, including tennis ace Rohan Bopanna, hockey great P R Sreejesh and table tennis legend Sharath Kamal, are gearing up for one last hurrah at the Asian Games, starting in Hangzhou on September 23.


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

The other big names 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 may be in the twilight of their careers but remain medal contenders at the upcoming Asian Games, which was delayed by a year due to COVID-19.

Rohan Bopanna

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 semi-finals and final of Wimbledon and the US Open this season, the big-serving Indian is showing age is just a number.

Earlier this week he bid adieu to Davis Cup action on a winning note and is 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

The 41-year-old table tennis ace is looking to add to his surprise two Asian Games medals in his fifth and final appearance.

Last year, he was among the stand-out players at the Commonwealth Games, where he won as many as three gold medals.

The lead-up to the Asian Games hasn't 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 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 higher than at the CWG and the trio of Sharath, G Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai will be aiming to match India's recent performance at the Asian Championships where it earned a bronze.

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

Ankita Raina

She is 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 won won a singles silver and bronze at the Asian Games. Raina is also likely to feature in the women's doubles and mixed doubles event.

P R Sreejesh

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 win gold and qualify directly for next year's Paris Olympics.

He has 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 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 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, winning the test event in Hangzhou in June.

Following the birth of her twins, Dipika won two World doubles titles 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 is making his third appearance at the Asian Games. Before the gold in Jakarta, he secured silver in the 2014 edition.

Seema Punia

The 40-year-old discus thrower has won a gold and bronze in the previous two editions.

The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year was a disappointment as she failed to win a medal after doing so in the past four editions.

The Asian Games will be her last chance to end up on the podium.

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