Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty once again spearhead India’s medal hopes at the BWF World Championships 2023 that starts on Monday, a year after they won bronze at the edition in Tokyo.
PV Sindhu, the 2019 champion, who has been struggling for form, finds herself at the end of a rought draw on her return to the competition after missing last year due to an injury.
In men’s singles though, unlike last year, HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen and Kidambi Srikanth have been put into different quarters of the draw, which raises hopes of another podium finish.
Here’s a look at the Indian contingent’s potential paths to the podium:
Rankireddy and Shetty go into the tournament as the in-form men’s doubles pair on the tour. The world No 2 duo won the Asian Championship, Indonesia Open Super 1000, Korea Open Super 500 and Swiss Open Super 300 title this year along with a semi-final finish at the Malaysia Masters.
Crucially, the pair have shown over the season that they have grown from a promising team to one of the fiercest duos on the tour. The Indonesia Open title was significant, not just for being the pair’s first Super 1000 title but also for the two wins they secured on the way to the title.
In the quarter-final, they demolished the top-seeded home pair of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Adrianto in 41 minutes. Rankireddy and Shetty followed it up by defeating rivals, Malaysia’s Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, in straight games in the final.
That was the Indian pair’s first win over the reigning world champions Chia and Yik in nine meetings.
This season has been a monumental year for the Indian duo with the pair winning more than three titles in a season for the first time in their careers. Copenhagen presents the opportunity for them to add a historic World Championship gold to their burgeoning medal kitty.
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What a difference a year makes. Sindhu’s withdrawal from the championships last year was a blow to India’s medal hopes. The 28-year-old was in good form, having won a bronze at the Asian Championships and followed it up with the Singapore Open title before winning her first singles gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
However, an injury sustained at the Commonwealth Games forced her to end her season prematurely. Since returning from injury at the start of the year, Sindhu has failed to find her peak form which has resulted in her exiting in the first round at seven tournaments and has seen her world ranking plummet to the current 15th place.
She parted ways with South Korean coach Park Tae Sang ahead of the All England Open in February and roped in Malaysia’s Muhammad Hafiz Hashim in July.
And so Sindhu comes into the World Championships as a rank outsider for the first time in more than half a decade. To make matters difficult for the 2019 world champion, Sindhu has been handed a nightmare draw.
Having received a bye into the second round, Sindhu will likely face 2017 champion Nozomi Okuhara. Should she get past the Japanese challenge, Sindhu will be up against Thailand’s seventh seed Ratchanok Intanon. The 2013 world champion boasts a 9-4 head-to-head record against Sindhu and has won their five previous meetings.
Should Sindhu beat Intanon, she could face world No 1 An Se Young. The South Korean is the in-form player on the Tour, having won seven of the 10 tournaments she has played this season. Sindhu has never beaten the 21-year-old with An winning five of their six meetings in straight games.
The odds are heavily stacked against Sindhu. But should the Indian come away from Copenhagen with a podium finish, it would rank as one of the greatest achievements in her storied career.
India’s medal hopes last year were hampered by tough draw that saw Prannoy, Sen and Srikanth drawn in the same quarter. This time around, the trio find themselves in different quarters.
Sen is the in-form Indian player on the tour as he comes into the tournament having finished on the podium in three of his last four events, including winning the Canada Open Super 500 title. On his way to the title in Calgary, Sen defeated Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn and the pair are on course to meet in the third round in Copenhagen.
Should Sen get past that stage, he may face sixth seed Li Shi Feng of China. The two met in back-to-back weeks in Canada and the US where both shared a win apiece.
In the other quarter, Prannoy has a prospective third-round clash against Singapore’s seventh seed Loh Kean Yew against whom he holds a 3-1 win-loss record. Prannoy’s reward for getting past Yew would likely be a quarter-final clash against top seed and reigning Olympic and world champion Viktor Axelsen.
With second seed Anthony Ginting withdrawing, Srikanth has a favourable draw in the bottom half should he hit his form. The 2021 World Championship silver medalist opens his campaign against 14th seed Kenta Nishimoto. Srikanth holds a 6-3 head-to-head record against the Japanese shuttler with his last win coming at the 2023 Australia Open Super 500.
Srikanth could then face fifth seed Jonatan Christie, whom he has beaten six out of the 11 times they have met.
The men’s singles draw is navigable for the Indian trio should they peak at the tournament with a podium place an achievable target.
Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, seeded for the first time at the World Championships at 15, have a tough road to a potential final. The Indian pair have received a bye into the second round and should they make it to the next round, they’ll be up against China’s top seeds and three-time world champions Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan who will be aiming to make it a hat-trick of world titles.
The other Indian pair in the draw are Ashwini Bhat and Shikha Gautam who are on course to meet 11th seeded Indonesians Apriyani Rahayu and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti. Rahayu is the reigning Olympic champion having won in Tokyo with former player Greysia Polii.
BWF World Championships from August 21 will be broadcast on Sports18 1 SD & HD and streamed on Jio Cinema in India.