India’s hopes in the upcoming Badminton World Championship rest on
P V Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth and Men’s Doubles sensations Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chiraj Shetty. Can they bring home some medals?
Can two-time runner-up P V Sindhu win the 25th Badminton World Championship 2019, to be held from Monday 19 August at St Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland? Her nemesis, Spain’s Carolina Marin – who beat her in the final of last year’s World Championship in Nanjing, as well as in the 2016 Rio Olympics – has pulled out after failing to recover from surgery for a knee injury sustained during the Indonesia Masters final in January.
World No 5 Sindhu has a bye, and faces either Chinese Taipei's Pai Yu Po or Bulgaria's Linda Zetchiri in the second round on Tuesday 20 August. If she wins, her next opponents are Beiwen Zhang of the USA in the third round and, if she gets past her, Taiwan’s World No 2 Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-final.
India’s other great hope, World No 8 Saina Nehwal also has a bye. She plays either Switzerland's Sabrina Jaquet or Dutchwoman Soraya De Visch Eijbergen in the second round on Tuesday 20 August. Then, it’s Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt in the third round and, if victorious, China’s World No 3 Chen Yufei in the quarter-final.
If both manage to win their quarter-finals, they face each other in the semi-final, thanks to a re-draw of the Women’s Singles matches caused, says the grapevine, by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) mistakenly including Mauritius' Kate Foo Kune – suspended for doping – in the initial draw! The faint silver lining is that neither has to face Japan’s World No 1 Akane Yamaguchi until the final. Sindhu lost to her in both the Japan Open and Indonesia Masters this year, though she has won 10 out of their 15 face-to-face encounters.
Saina has not had a great year. Sindhu was in form, but seems to have lost it since she dumped Yonex to sign a record four-year Rs50-crore sponsorship deal with Chinese sports brand Li Ning this year. Both have a difficult draw, and will have to play at the top of their game to win a medal.
India's World No 7 Kidambi Srikanth, who starts his Men’s Singles campaign against Ireland’s Nhat Nyugen on Monday 19 August, has it relatively easy for three rounds. In the quarter-final, he is likely to encounter Chinese Taipei’s World No 2 Chou Tien Chen. If he does manage to upset Chou, Srikanth may actually be poised to bag his first ever World Championship medal.
It’s an even harder road for the other Indian men. World No 10 Sameer Verma faces Chou Tien Chen in the third round. World No 16 Sai Praneeth comes up against Indonesian 6th seed Anthony Ginthing in the third round. H S Prannoy, who got his World Cup entry only after Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen pulled out with a back injury, will face China’s legendary two-time Olympic champion, five-time World champion and six-time All-England champion Lin Dan in the second round; if he wins his first-round match against Finland’s Eetu Heino.
Ten Indian pairs are in the doubles and mixed doubles. But only three have any real prospects. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chiraj Shetty – presently ranked ninth in the world – are the dark horses. If they replicate their Thailand Open form (where they beat world champions Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen of China), they can come back with a World Championship medal.
Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy in women's doubles, and Ashwini Ponnappa and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy in mixed doubles, have the potential to cause an upset or two and make it to the second half of the draw.
The seven-day tournament will see 64 matches played in preliminary rounds on Monday 19 August, followed by 56 on Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 August. Then come the semi-finals on Saturday 24 August and finals on Sunday 25 August.