The 2015 badminton World Championships, which begin today in Jakarta, will be mark India's arrival on the world stage as one of the superpowers of the sport. For the first time, India not only have two women seeded in top 11 in the singles, but also have three men seeded in singles in the top 11 — a feat surpassed only by China.
Saina Nehwal. Pic/AFP
India also has Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa seeded 13th in women doubles, which will also be the first time any Indian pair is seeded at the Championships in the three doubles events.
Saina vs history
If all goes as per seeding then India are sure to see Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth in the semi-finals, which assures India of at least two bronze medals. Saina, seeded second in Jakarta, has never crossed the quarter-final stage of the World Championships, which her young compatriot PV Sindhu has achieved twice.
Given her recent form, the World No 2 Saina is good enough to win gold at Jakarta. She should sail through the first two rounds after which she could run into her nemesis Wang Yihan, the former world champion from China, who enjoys a 9-2 career head-to-head over the Indian. However, in their last meeting at this year's All England Championship, Saina demolished Wang in straight games.
Onus on Sindhu
Sindhu, on the other hand, has defeated almost all top ranked players at very young age, but has lacked consistency befitting a real world-beater. She enjoys a bye in her first round and then could meet Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China, the third seed, in her third round. This will be a tough one for Sindhu, who is 1-2 in head-to-head meetings with Li, but is now match fit and should put up a good show. If she wins, she will run into eighth seed South Korean Sung Ji Hyun.
Among the men, despite that mindboggling two-game victory over legendary shuttler Lin Dan at the China Open last year, Srikanth has not shown the sterling fighting qualities one hoped to see from him in past few months.
His first two rounds are easy and in the third he runs into 13th seed Hu Yun of Hong Kong, whom the Indian has defeated twice in as many encounters. A win here will pit him against the seventh seeded Wang Zhengming of China, an unknown entity for Srikanth as the two have not met before.
Meanwhile, HS Prannoy, the 11th seed, could face eighth seeded Dane Viktor Axelsen after easy two rounds. The in-form Indian is down 0-2 in head-to-head, but he ran the Dane really close in both matches, stretching the encounters to three games. The winner here runs into top seed and favourite Chen Long of China — a monumental task for Prannoy, but then, this is his chance to garner glory.
Kashyap, a contender
The other contender Parupalli Kashyap has a good enough chance to grab a medal. He plays Lee Dong Keun of South Korea in Round 2 after an easy outing in first. He leads the Korean 2-1. He should get through here and then will face fourth seed from Japan Kento Momoto, who defeated Kashyap in their two encounters. Kashyap, however has the skills, the hunger and the experience to grab his chances here. A win over Momoto, could set up a potential clash against Chou Tien Chen of Taipei in the quarters. Here too, the Indian will fancy his chances.
In the singles events, India can expect a gold from Saina and a bronze from Kashyap, if both play true to form. In women's doubles, where India has a seeded pair in Jwala/Ashwini, this is the time to walk the talk. It will be tough, but with their enormous experience and confidence, India may well get a medal. The famed Indian duo plays second seeded Chinese pairing of Luo Ying and Luo Yu. With a bit of luck, India could see its best-ever medal haul.
The writer is a former India player