After reaching the quarterfinals of the 2011 and 2017 editions, the 2018 Commonwealth Games mixed team gold medalists India have been pitted with 10-time Sudirman Cup winners China this time. However, their erratic and injury-returned shuttlers are instilling very little confidence in fans.
India are clubbed with Malaysia and China in Group 1 D, from where the top two sides would progress into the quarterfinal to compete for the title. And while India have the arms and ammunitions up their sleeves to go a long way in the biennial international badminton championship, their players’ inconsistent form this year while some others return from injuries don’t really make them title contenders.
China, obviously, would be the biggest challenge for India, not only for their star-studded mixed team squad but their psychological disadvantage over them. India lost to China on both their previous occasions and if Malaysia did have the legendary Lee Chong Wei on their side, India’s chances of progressing into the knockout stages would have significantly slashed.
However, in his absence, India’s Kidambi Srikanth would be facing either World No. 21 Lee Zii Jia or World No. 73 Cheam June Wei. And while the World No. 9 should be to have an easy outing against the significantly lower ranked opponents, it should be well remembered that Srikanth was eliminated by World No. 41 Shesar Hiren Rhustavito in the round of 32 of the Asian Badminton Championships.
To further exacerbate things, Srikanth’s below average 2019 further leaves very little excitement for his fans. Starting his season majorly at the Malaysia Masters, Srikanth lost to Son Wan Ho in the quarterfinals of the tournament. While everyone thought that the Indian would only improve after that, Srikanth hardly came out of the trance losing to Jonathan Christie and Kento Momota in the quarterfinals of Indonesia Masters and All England Open.
While Srikanth reaching the final of the India Open did get few hopes up, Viktor Axelsen crushed them by beating him in his own backyard. Srikanth fell back into the quarterfinal loop once again following that as he lost to Chen Long in the Malaysia Open and Momota in Singapore before he failed to make it to the pre-quarters in the Asian Championships.
Hence, while Srikanth would have a 4-1 head-to-head advantage over Shi Yuqi when India face China, fans don’t really know what to be sure about. Chen Long, on the other hand, has a clear 6-1 advantage over Srikanth, and the management would rather let Sameer Verma try his luck against the World No. 5.
World No.13, although has shown sparks here and there at the international level, isn’t really one of India’s biggest hopes in the tournament. He has had an average 2019 as well, which started with a defeat against Axelsen in the All England Open’s round of 32. Verma then lost to Sai Praneeth in the pre-quarters of the India Open, while he couldn’t come so far in the Malaysia Open where Yuqi stopped him in the round of 32.
Verma lost to Yuqi thrice this year itself with the last one being in the Asian Championships while Chou Tein Chen beat him in the quarters of the Singapore Open. The 24-year-old comes to the tournament as the back of complaint by HS Prannoy stating that India should have sent more than 13 members for the tournament and Verma would need to prove a lot.
Next come the women’s singles and India’s only real chance of getting something out of this tournament. Unlike the men’s circuit, the women’s competition is pretty level-fielded with anyone able to beat anyone barring Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying. And India should have an upper hand in this with PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal coming up against He Bingjiao and Chen Yufei.
Though Nehwal has mellowed down since returning from her surgery, she has been India’s only title winner this year. After losing to Carolina Marin in the semis of the Malaysia Masters, the World No. 9 won the Indonesia Masters by beating Marin, who had to retire in the final after concurring an injury. Nehwal went to the quarters of the All England where she lost to Tai before giving a miss to the India Open owing to the intestine surgery.
Returning has been quite difficult for Nehwal though, as she lost to World No. 20 Pornpawee Chochuwong in the round of 32 in Malaysia Open, and to World No. 157 Wang Zhiyi in the round of 32 of New Zealand Open. We can only hope it was a one-time occurrence and move on here.
After finishing with the World Tour Final title last year, a lot was expected of Sindhu who finally seemed to have broken the final jinx. But, that was a false alarm for Sindhu hasn’t made to a single final this year and the closest she came to it was a semi-final loss to Bingjiao.
While it is difficult to predict who will face whom, but Sindhu’s 4-3 advantage over Yufei make her a good candidate. To further make things easier for the management, Sindhu has lost her last four clashes against Bingjiao. Hence, India’s strongest suit in the tournament would really be handy against Malaysia where the duo faces Goh Jin Wei and Soniia Cheah Su Ya.
What’s left is the doubles category and India don’t really have much hope except for a slim beam on the injury returned Swastiksairaj Rankireddy pairing up with Chirag Shetty once again. The duo came together only this month and was quick to win the 34th Brazil International Challenge.
They looked to repeat the feat in the Li-Ning Denmark Challenge but were stopped by the England pair Ben Lane and Sean Vendy. The duo would most probably be facing China’s Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, and Malaysia’s Aaron Chia/ Soh Wooi Yik, and given their doubles’ strength India, at best, are expected to be competitive.
While the return of Rankireddy pretty much shuffles the mixed doubles combination, India women’s well-cemented doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy haven’t been very awe-inspiring either. The duo managed to reach just two quarterfinals in their last seven tournaments and against the Chinese World No. 5 pair of Chen Qingchen/ Jia Yifan, they would hardly stand a chance. Malaysia’s World No.17 pair of Chow Mei Kuan and Lee Meng Yean aren’t going to be easy either making this category to be India’s weakest link.
Hence, India’s chances of progressing into the quarterfinals look ripe with Malaysia not strong enough on paper in the singles category, but as far as advancing further than that is concerned, India’s chances look very bleak.