India have won at least one medal in every edition of the Badminton World Championships since 2011. As the action moves to Tokyo for the 2022 edition, the pressure will be on a strong contingent on paper to keep that streak going.

But without PV Sindhu – who has won five of India’s 12 medals at the event – and with an unfortunate draw that has put three Indian medal hopes in one quarter of men’s singles, that run is under somewhat of an early threat.

India at badminton World C’ships: From Prakash Padukone to PV Sindhu & K Srikanth, a brief history

Let’s take a look at the Indian contingent’s first-round matches and potential paths to the podium for a few medal hopefuls:

India's first-round matches at Tokyo 2022

First-round matches When 
Men's singles
Kidambi Srikanth vs Nhat Nguyen (Ireland) Monday
Lakshya Sen vs Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus (Denmark) Monday
B. Sai Praneeth vs Chou Tien Chen (Chinese Taipei) Monday
HS Prannoy vs Luka Wraber (Austria) Monday
Women’s Singles
Saina Nehwal vs Cheung Ngan Yi (Hong Kong) Tuesday
Malvika Bansod vs Line Christophersen (Denmark) Monday
Men’s Doubles
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty (Bye) N/A
Manu Attri/ B. Sumeeth Reddy vs H. Okamura/ M. Onodera (Japan) Monday
Dhruv Kapila/ Arjun MR vs K. Kedren/ S. Jomkoh (Thailand) Monday
Krishna Prasad Garaga/ Vishnuvardan G. Panjala vs F. Delrue/ W. Villeger (France) Tuesday
Women’s Doubles
Ashwini Ponnappa/ Sikki Reddy vs F. Abdul Razzaq/ A. N. Abdul Razzaq (Maldives) Monday
Pooja Dandu/ Sanjana Santosh vs I. Castillo/ P. L. T. Regal (Peru) Monday
Treesa Jolly/ Gayatri Gopichand vs Low Yeen Yuan/ V. Siow (Malaysia) Tuesday
Shikha Gautam/ Ashwini Bhat vs J. Mair/ M. Corsini Tuesday
Mixed Doubles
Tanisha Crasto/ Ishaan Bhatnagar vs F. Volkmann/ P. Scheiel (Germany) Monday
Juhi Dewangan/ Venkat Prasad vs J. Moore/ G. Mairs (England) Tuesday

Men’s singles

With a former medallist in B Sai Praneeth, and two defending medallists in Srikanth Kidambi and Lakshya Sen, and one of the form players on tour in HS Prannoy, India’s men’s singles contingent at the 2022 World Championships should have been a safe bet for at least a podium finish. While Sai Praneeth has struggled for form since Basel 2019, the other three have had superb wins in the last year or so, the highlight being their roles in the historic Thomas Cup triumph.

But because of a click on a computer, all three of Lakshya, Srikanth and Prannoy are in the same quarter of the draw... that also has a certain Lee Zii Jia and Kento Momota. Imagine that. One quarter of the draw that has Kento Momota, Lee Zii Jia, Lakshya Sen, Srikanth Kidambi, HS Prannoy (throw in Zhao Jun Peng there and a challenging opponent on any day HK Vittinghus too). In a draw of 64, that’s seven big names bunched together in a group of 16, fighting for one spot in the semifinals.

BWF World Championship: Kento Momota feeling ‘a lot of unease’ as he aims for third title

But first things first, here’s a look at who the Indians are facing in the first round.

Sai Praneeth has the toughest task in progressing as he takes on fourth seed Chou Tien Chen in the round of 64, the Indian has a 0-4 head-to-head record against the world No 4.

For 2021 bronze medallist Lakshya, a challenging first-round match awaits against veteran HK Vittinghus of Denmark, who has the knack of coming up with big performances at big stages. The Dane has a 2-1 H2H in his favour. The Indian, seeded 9th, will have to be in good form from the start. Should he get past that, Lakshya should fancy reaching the round of 16 where Kento Momota or HS Prannoy will be waiting.

Lakshya spoke to BWF about the importance of quickly recovering from the highs of winning the Commonwealth Games men’s singles gold.

“When we planned for these tournaments, it was a one and a half month plan, that whatever happened at the Commonwealth Games, it wouldn’t hamper preparations for the World Championships. The approach was different… I took a break (before the Commonwealth Games), I didn’t play Malaysia and Singapore. I took time off so I could train for these big events,” the 21-year-old said.

“The approach was that no matter what happened at the Commonwealth Games, the main target remained the World Championships. I missed a few events before the Commonwealth Games and I got my rhythm there. I feel well prepared now.”

Watch: Lakshya Sen’s impressive 2022 season so far makes him one to watch out for as BWF’s Next Gen

One man who doesn’t have to worry about fatigue of CWG is Prannoy, who must be recharged and raring to go. After his undefeated run at the Thomas Cup, Prannoy has built on his good form on the tour. If he has to reach the podium at Worlds for the first time, he needs to overcome Austria’s world No 94 Luka Wraber first up. But it gets tricky right after for the world No 18 with a potential meeting against Momota in the second round. The Japanese former champion might not be at his best but has showed signs of coming back to form and will be driven to put the disappointment of the Tokyo Olympics behind him, this time in front of home fans. But Prannoy loves an upset or two, too, so don’t count him out.

In the same quarter is also Srikanth, the 2021 silver medallist starting with a tricky test against Nhat Nguyen. The Irish shuttler had defeated Srikanth at the 2021 All England but the Indian, in good form this year, should get past that test. A possible second round match against Chinese left-hander Zhao Jun Peng (world No 23) will be a tough one for the Indian. And it is not going to get any easier after that with a rested Lee Zii Jia, seen as one of the genuine challengers to Viktor Axelsen’s dominance on tour this year, likely waiting in the round of 16. Should he cross all that, either Lakshya, Momota or Prannoy will be waiting in the quarterfinals.

Bottom quarter of the draw in men's singles

Women’s singles

With no PV Sindhu, attention will be on Saina Nehwal to see if she can make a deep run.

The draw has opened up a little for Nehwal with the withdrawal of former world champion Nozomi Okuhara. The Indian, who won silver in 2015 and bronze in 2017, will be facing world No 50 Cheung Ngan Yi in the opening round. Having showed signs of getting back to a good level with her recent win against He Bing Jiao, Nehwal, now down to world No 33, will be fancying her chances.

Badminton: PV Sindhu confirms stress fracture on left foot, pulls of BWF World C’ships in Tokyo

Should she win that, the second round will be a walkover due to Okuhara’s absence. A round-of-16 tie against Busanan Ongbamrungphan is another winnable fixture, even though Nehwal has lost four on the trot against the Thai world No 12. Should she reach the last eight though, the likely path to podium will be through Tai Tzu Ying. A quarterfinal against the world No 2 will see Nehwal hoping to end a streak of 13 straight defeats. Having won five of the first seven meetings against the wizard that is Tai, Nehwal hasn’t defeated her nemesis since 2013.

Also in action is Malvika Bansod, who will look to gain some valuable experience of the highest level on her debut. She takes on world No 21 Line Christophersen from Denmark in the first round.

Men’s doubles

With what we have said about men’s singles and women’s singles, there will be plenty of hopes riding on the dynamic duo of Indian badminton – Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. Only Ashwini Ponnappa-Jwala Gutta have won a doubles medal at this event from India. At the end of a long season in 2021, with niggles to deal with, the Indians lost out in the round of 16. With Mathias Boe back in their corner now, and in good form with a historic gold at CWG, the seventh seeds will look to go deeper this time.

But in a wide open men’s doubles draw, that is easier said than done. While they have avoided a couple of nemesis pairs in their quarter, the seventh seeds (who have a first-round bye) will have to potentially navigate through former world No 1 Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong. The Malaysian veterans, who won silver at 2016 Rio Olympics, have a 2-0 H2H against the Indians but they haven’t met since 2018.

Should Indians reach the quarters, they will have to likely overcome either the All England champions Muhammad Shohibul Fikri and Bagas Maulana or the reigning world champions Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi. The Indians have defeated Fikri/Maulana once already in 2022. Against Hoki/Kobayashi, the world No 2 pair, the Indians have a 1-1 record but haven’t faced them since 2019. Either fixture will be a tough one but at their best, Satwik-Chirag should have 50-50 chances of winning and possibly reach the semifinals to create history.

Screenshots in the article courtesy: Tournament Software.

BWF World Championships from August 22 will be broadcast on Sports18 1 SD & HD and streamed on Voot Select in India.