It is that time of the year when PV Sindhu finds a way to raise the bar high enough for all her detractors to forget her other shortcomings while Saina Nehwal has consistently made it to the quarter-final round where a win or loss is a difference between a medal and a heartbreak.
On the other hand, the men’s singles stars have flattered to deceive by raising hopes in the run-up to the BWF World Championship but have been found wanting in the year’s biggest extravaganza. The only change is that at least one of them is managing to reach the quarter-finals for the last two editions.
Five of the six Indian singles players – men and women – who will be in action at Basel, Switzerland, from Monday are seeded. This means that they will have time to ease into the bigger matches and everyone will be aware that just one or two upsets could take them to the podium as both the semi-finalists in the World Championship bag a medal.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa showed the Indian badminton fans how it is done back in 2011 by ending the country’s 28-year wait for a medal and since then no Indian contingent has returned empty-handed from the worlds with Sindhu alone bagging four medals to go with the Rio Olympics silver.
And the 24-year-old would once again be India’s best bet to add to the tally of eight World Championship medals in Basel on current form. The two-time world championship silver medallist has managed to put behind a dismal start to the year by reaching the finals of the Indonesia Open Super 1000 event last month. But more than the run to the final, it was her decimation of former world champion Nozomi Okuhara and All England champion Chen Yufei of China in the earlier rounds that would have delighted her fans and supporters.
“I’ve been working on my defence, physical fitness and also on-court skills. I have trained hard and I hope I can do well. I have to perform well but there is no pressure,” Sindhu said before leaving for Basel.
The ‘no pressure’ statement maybe just her own way of soothing nerves but even she knows that not finishing on the podium will be considered as a failed campaign for the world No 5 and barring any surprises, the one person who is likely to stand between Sindhu and a definite medal is world No 2 Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-finals.
The two haven’t faced each other since Sindhu ended the seven-match losing string against the Taipei shuttler in the BWF World Tour Finals in December last year and Tai would be the player under pressure if and when the two meet in Basel as she still doesn’t have a World Championship medal and has been nursing a few niggles in the run-up to the tournament.
Among the other Indians in the fray, Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth would be India’s best bet to land a medal despite their indifferent form in the last few months.
Nehwal has been nursing a few injuries and has not been keeping well ahead of the World Championship campaign but the draw is relatively easy for the 29-year-old to reach the last eight stage and then it would be about finding a way to beat Yufei, who is a firm favourite in that quarter of the draw.
The draw in the men’s singles category is probably not as straight forward for the Indian contingent as there are a few potential banana skins before they can think of the business end of the tournament.
Srikanth, the highest-seeded Indian in the draw, will face Ireland’s Nhat Nguyen in the repeat of the opening round of the last edition in Nanjing. Though ranked 81 in the world, the Irishman has improved a lot in the last year and could be a tricky opponent on the slow courts in Basel.
If Srikanth does manage to get past the initial hurdles, the world number 10’s biggest hurdle at the quarter-final would be the in-form Chou Tien Chen. The second seed won the Indonesia Open and Thailand Open titles in the run-up to the World Championship and the only person who could potentially stop him before the last eight round could be 10th seed Sameer Verma, who is slated to meet the Chinese Taipei star in the pre-quarters.
In the top half, the road to semi-final for Japan Open semi-finallist B Sai Praneeth goes through Indonesian stars Anthony Ginting and Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie while HS Prannoy will have to counter former champion Lin Dan and reigning champion Kento Momota even before making it to the last-eight stage.
India’s challenge in the paired events suffered a major blow when Thailand Open champions Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy pulled out of the competition due to injuries and there would be no representation in the mixed doubles category as even Pranaav Jerry Chopra is injured.
This means that the primary target of the likes of Manu Atri/B Sumeeth Reddy and Ponnappa/N Sikki Reddy combinations in men’s and women’s doubles respectively would just try and make it to the quarter-finals as even that looks like a distant proposition.