In what will be a big test for the Indian shuttlers ahead of the Tokyo Olympics next year, they have been handed easy draws to begin with in the first round of the BWF World Championships. A huge blow for India would be the injuries to Swastiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who pulled out.
To start with PV Sindhu, India’s most successful and biggest hope in the prestigious tournament, the World No. 5 has already gotten a bye in the first round and would be facing the winner of the clash between Chinese Taipei’s Pai Yu Po and Bulgaria’s Linda Zetchiri. However, Sindhu would be the favourite to advance to the pre-quarters regardless of that with her potential opponent being USA’s Beiwen Zhang.
Given how the harsh the tournament has been to the blue-eyed girl of Indian badminton, this could be the year Sindhu gets the elusive title. After losing to Nozomi Okuhara in the 2017 edition and then Carolina Marin last year, Sindhu has won silver medals in consecutive years and it is also human to hope that the consistent shuttler gets over the line in the third attempt.
Even at 29 years of age and with her body fighting with injuries every second tournament, Saina Nehwal would be India’s second-biggest hope in any major tournament, be it the championships or the Olympics. Nehwal has also gotten a bye in the first round and would be waiting for her opponent in the second round, which would be either Switzerland’s Sabrina Jaquet or the Netherlands’ Soraya De Visch Eijbergen. Compared to Sindhu, she could be having an easier task in the pre-quarterfinals against Denmark’s young Mia Blichfeldt.
In the men’s draw, India have their hopes pinged on Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma and B Sai Praneeth, none of whom have been convincing, to put it mildly. And with India looking for the one that could get them Olympics glory, the time is now or never for the three competitors.
Kidambi Srikanth would be starting his campaign against Ireland’s Nhat Nguyen, against whom he hasn’t played before, but the World No. 81 isn't expected to be a big threat for the World No. 10 anyway. However, Srikanth’s recent performances haven’t really kept him as the favourites that he was last year. With Srikanth’s potential pre-quarterfinalist being twelfth seeded Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen.
B Sai Praneeth would be opening against Canada’s Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and like Srikanth, the 16th seeded isn’t expected to have any problems in the first round. In fact, if everything goes as planned, Praneeth’s biggest challenge would only come in the pre-quarters in a potential Anthony Ginting clash.
Tenth seeded Sameer Verma would start against Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew and would also be having an easy run until the pre-quarters where he could face Taiwan’s Chou Tien Chen. India’s only unseeded men’s shuttler would be HS Prannoy, who has been pitted against Finland’s Eetu Heino and could have an extremely difficult task against Lin Dan in the round two itself.
With Rankireddy and Chetty pulling out of the tournament, India’s challenge in the men’s doubles is almost non-existent. India would be having three pairs in the men’s doubles category in the likes of Manu Attri/ B Sumeeth Reddy, MR Arjun/ Ramchandran Shlok, and Arun George/ Sanyam Shukla but, they would most probably just be mere participants in the tournament with their inexperience. Attri and Reddy have shown some promise over the last few months and their start against French pair Thom Gicquel and Ronan Labar would determine a lot of things.
After winning the Hyderabad Open, the pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy would be riding high on confidence, but they know that the World Championships would be the highest level they could get. However, they have already got a bye in the second round. Apart from them, India would also have the pairing of Meghana Jakkampudi/ S Ram Poorvisha and Pooja Dandu/ Sanjana Santosh competing.
With Rankireddy missing out with the injury, the pairing of him and Ponnappa would most probably give a bye, with the pairing of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy India’s only hope in the mixed doubles. Chopra and Reddy are up against the English mixed pair of Ben Lane and Jessica Pugh.