World No.3 Saina Nehwal will be leading the Indian challenge at the World Championships, starting today at the Tianhe Indoor Stadium, and this will be the Hyderabadi’s best chance to grab the only major medal missing from her kitty.
The ace Indian shuttler, leading India’s biggest and strongest contingent so far at the meet, looks firm to clinch the metal this time around at the championships.
India till date have won only two medals in this event. Prakash Padukone won the men’s singles bronze in the 1983 edition at Copenhagen while the next one came 28 years later when Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa surprised one and all by winning the women’s doubles bronze two years ago in London.
The Championships haven’t really been Saina’s favourite tourney -- she lost in the women’s singles quarterfinals of the last three editions to Chinese opponents. This time though, the third seed will not run into a Chinese till the semifinals where she could face top seed and reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui.
The London Olympics bronze medallist would like to set her record straight against the Chinese as the tourney returns to China after 26 years. The Commonwealth Games gold medallist has got a relatively easy draw, with a first round bye, and is expected to saunter into the semifinals. Her first real test is likely to come in the form of Japanese eighth seed Minatsu Mitani in the quarterfinals, against whom the Indian has a 3-1 record.
“I don’t want to think too far ahead and will like to take things one at a time. I have been working hard for the last few weeks and I hope to be at my best in China,” Saina said before leaving for the worlds. The 23-year-old’s citymate P V Sindhu also should not be forgotten. The Malaysia Open Grand Prix Gold champion is coming from a break and looks to be in prime condition.
The 10th seed also has a first round bye but faces a huge task of taking on defending champion Yihan Wang as a likely third round opponent. Sindhu lost the only match (Sudirman Cup in May) she played against Yihan but she managed to take a game off the Chinese. “When we met in the Sudirman Cup, I took the first game and ran very close in the second.
That gave me a lot of confidence and the hope of beating her. I think it is possible to beat her now since I know how she plays,” Sindhu told IANS before leaving for China. Among the other Indian shuttlers, 13th seed Parupalli Kashyap’s real test could come against sixth seed Yun Hu of Hong Kong in the men’s singles pre-quarters.
Meanwhile, Ajay Jayaram will have a tough opener against Wing Ki Wong of Hong Kong and if the Mumbai resident manages to overcome the World No.12, he could go a lot further in the draw. Pranaav Jerry Chopra, Akshay Dewalkar, Tarun Kona, Arun Vishnu, Aparna Balan, N. Siki Reddy, Ashwini Ponnappa and Pradnya Gadre will form the doubles teams at the worlds.
However, not much is expected of the doubles shuttlers whose recent performances have noticeably gone down since Jwala Gutta split with Ashwini and V. Diju, in women’s and mixed, respectively. Since then, India have failed to make a mark in international doubles competitions.