It is perhaps fitting that the Indian badminton team will begin another team World Championships almost exactly on the one-year anniversary of their greatest triumph, with a sense of expectation. On May 15, 2022, India became World Champions in the men’s team event by lifting the Thomas Cup. It was an unprecedented achievement for the sport in the nation, that had become used to individual event success in the last couple of decades. On May 14, 2023, India will begin their Sudirman Cup Finals campaign in Suzhou, China.
HS Prannoy, PV Sindhu and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty will lead India’s charge at the event this year. India are drawn with two other Asian heavyweights Malaysia and Chinese Taipei in Group C. The fourth team in India’s group is Australia.
Before Thomas Cup 2022, India had never won a medal in the tournament’s history. And they didn’t stop with semifinals, that would have given them a place on the podium, they went all the way. But even before the tournament began, there was a feeling that the squad India took to Bangkok was capable of leaving a mark at the Impact Arena.
The Sudirman Cup, however, will be a notch higher, even though India have brought out the big guns again. While Thomas Cup 2022 saw India get rewarded for their singles depth and the star quality of their main doubles pair, the Sudirman Cup – World Team Championships – is a bigger test of overall badminton depth. So much so that only three countries have ever won the tournament over the 17 editions it has been played since 1989.
China will be looking for a record-extending 13th title. The only other teams to win the Sudirman Cup are Indonesia – in the inaugural year 1989 – and four-time winners South Korea, who captured the title in 1991, 1993, 2003 and 2017.
But, caveats out of the way, India have approached Sudirman Cup Finals 2023 much the way they did Thomas and Uber Cup Finals in 2022. The top-ranked singles players are present, the best doubles pairings are too. There is a conscious attempt already to set up a team atmosphere that showcases the unity – the team dinner before departure, the dress code in the airport, etc.
India’s hopes of a potential podium finish at Sudirman Cup also got a boost following the bronze medal-winning performance in the Asian Mixed Team Championships earlier this year, that saw them qualify for the tournament too. Of course, the field wasn’t the strongest in Dubai but there were good signs.
“Sudirman Cup is a prestigious tournament and the selectors have picked the best squad after studying the domestic and international results. We are confident that this team will challenge for a medal this year,” said Badminton Association of India secretary Sanjay Mishra while naming the squad.
The return of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who missed the Asian Mixed Team event due to injury, is a big boost. Chirag Shetty was one of the stars in Dubai, as were Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly. The singles results were hit and miss, however and for India to stand any chance to get out what is being dubbed as the Group of Death, they will need to fire on all cylinders from the word go.
Indian team for Sudirman Cup Finals:
Men’s singles: HS Prannoy, Kidambi Srikanth (Reserve: Lakshya Sen)
Women’s singles: PV Sindhu, Anupama Upadhyaya (Reserve: Aakarshi Kashyap)
Men’s doubles: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty, MR Arjun/Dhruv Kapila
Women’s doubles: Gayatri Gopichand/Treesa Jolly, Ashwini Ponnappa/Tanisha Crasto
Mixed doubles: Tanisha Crasto/Sai Pratheek
Chinese Taipei and India will likely be squaring up for the second spot in the group, and that is a mouth-watering tie in prospect, straight off the bat on Sunday morning. There is the potential rematch between Satwik-Chirag and Olympic champions Lee Yang-Wang Chi Lin. A PV Sindhu vs Tai Tzu Ying clash is on the cards as is a HS Prannoy vs Chou Tien Chen match-up. (Lineup will be confirmed in due course).
India’s second fixture is against Malaysia on Monday, who start as favourites in Group C but things are not exactly rosy for them on the circuit at the moment. The results have been up and down, there are administrative changes happening in the background and in general, they have an unpredictable unit. The Malaysian strong-suit is their doubles disciplines, with world champions Aaron Chia / Soh Wooi Yik leading the way. Apart from women’s singles, they don’t have any evident weakness, though women’s doubles is one to keep an eye on with Pearly Tan’s recent injury issues. That is where Gayatri-Treesa could play a pivotal role, with the Indians have defeated their nemesis in the Asian event earlier this year.
As far as India’s prospects are concerned, the singles results have been a concern this year but if Prannoy and Sindhu can bring their best, India also have the strength in men’s and women’s doubles to trouble most teams in four out of the five matches. Mixed doubles has been an area of concern for a while and it is the only discipline where India don’t have a top-20 entry in the world. Ishaan Bhatnagar’s injury has meant Tanisha Crasto plays with Sai Pratheek now, but India do have the tempting option of trying Satwik and Ashwini Ponnappa, the pairing that gave so much hope a few years back. Their win against Indonesia in 2017 was a big part of why India reached the quarterfinals. Even at the Commonwealth Games in 2022, Ashwini and Satwik were lined up to play a couple of matches but weren’t required to. So, keep an eye out for that perhaps.
Overall, in a group that is hard to call, India have their task cut out. But in the three matches between the three Asian sides that is likely to decide the top two, anything is possible and every match and game is likely to count in the final assessment.
India’s recent results in Sudirman Cup Finals:
2021: Eliminated in group stage
2019: Eliminated in group stage
2017: Lost in quarterfinals
2015: Eliminated in group stage
2013: Eliminated in group stage
2011: Lost in quarterfinals
BWF President, Poul-Erik Høyer:
“This is a significant moment for badminton in China. Our first BWF Major Championship in China in three years. The pandemic years have not been easy for any of us, and the badminton community has certainly felt the absence of events in China. China has such a vibrant association with badminton that it still feels odd that we’ve missed out on Chinese tournament hosting for so many months.”
Overall, of course, China start as the strong favourites and doubly more so with the tournament happening at home to mark the return of major events after a break. Japan’s squad is missing names like Kento Momota and Nozomi Okuhara but has incredible quality to challenge China.
One more development of note before the tournament was that the new spin serve has been banned in the interim by BWF and won’t be seen at the Sudirman Cup. More on that here.
India’s group stage fixtures:
India vs Chinese Taipei, Sunday 14 May: 7.30 am IST
India vs Malaysia, Monday 15 May: 2.30 pm IST
India vs Australia, Wednesday 17 May: 7.30 am IST
Tournament regulations for Sudirman Cup Finals available here.
Interview: Mathias Boe, the meticulous Dane guiding Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty to the top