21st World Badminton Championship starts today in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s a big tournament in badminton world with possibly the toughest draw. P. V. Sindhu won a bronze in women’s singles at the 20th edition of the games held at Guangzhou, China last year. She also won a bronze in the recently concluded Commonwealth Games at Glasgow. Needless to say, expectations would be high from Sindhu, not only of a nation of 1.2 billion people who have a new found love in badminton, but also of her own. Pressure would be on her to better her records. Sindhu apart, let’s take a look at India’s overall prospect in the games.In women’s singles, India has two entries; P V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. Saina is ranked 7 at the tournament whereas Sindhu 11. Since both the players are seeded, they enjoy 1st round byes. The tournament starts for them from the 2nd round. In round 2, Saina will play the winner of the round 1 match between Anna Rankin of New Zealand and Natalia Perminova of Russia.
Unless injured, Saina is likely to register an easy win here. Things will get interesting for Saina in round 3, where she will meet Sayaka Takahashi of Japan who is seeded 13 in the tournament. No player can be taken lightly in such a big tournament. Sayaka will of course try to turn tables on Saina. But Saina is likely to prevail.
Tough road ahead
If things go to script, Saina will face the No. 1 seed Li Xuerui of China in the quarterfinals. Though Saina has prevailed over Xuerui twice in the past, her overall head to head record against Xuerui is heavily tilted against her. Factoring in her recent defeats against Xuerui as well as ascending career graph of Xuerui and her own lackluster performance in the recent past, this round will be the toughest for Saina.
If Saina does manage to outdo Xuerui, her career will get a fresh lease of life and she will be a very strong contender for finals, as her semi-final opponent, if she gets there that is, will be Ratchanok Intanon of Indonesia. Intanon was the winner of last edition and seeded four in the tournament. The Indian will have the sheer psychological edge going into the semi-final.
Back to Sindhu, Sindhu has a much tougher draw. She has an easy round 2 match. Her 3rd round match should be against 6th seed Bae Yeon Ju of Korea, who sent Saina packing in the last edition of the tournament with a gritty performance. But I will back Sindhu to overcome Bae and meet the 2nd seed Wang Shixian of China.
The entire world, at the very least all of India and China will have a sense of Déjà vu. Last year Sindhu defeated Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan in back to back matches. Déjà vu, because if she prevails over Shixian again, which I again back her to do, she will meet the 3rd seed Wang Yihan in semi-final. Last year she defeated Wang Yihan first and then Wang Shixian on her way to semi finals. This year Wang Shixian will be her quarter final opponent and Wang Yihan in the semis.
I can promise badminton fans world over that this will be the part of the tournament that will be watched most keenly. Especially Chinese would dread of Sindhu who has started figuring in Chinese authorities’ list of players-to-plan-for regularly. The Chinese would be raring to take revenge and will fight very bitterly.
Positive for Sindhu, however, is that this time she wouldn’t be playing in front of a heavily partisan crowd. Defeating Chinese players is tough, and defeating them playing in China even tougher. But Sindhu has done it. She is surely going to be the darling of the crowds in Copenhagen after the likes of Carolina Marin and Ratchanok Intanon.
Indian national coach P. Gopichand would be happy the two players will not cross the road until the finals, if any or both of them make it that far, that is. Theories apart, Saina’s toughest match will be in the quarters, and for Sindhu it will be the semis. If they get past there, it is very likely that they will come back with something.However, looking at the tournament with a broader view tells us, it will be a Li Xuerui/ Ratchanok Intanon vs Wang Yihan/P. V. Sindhu final. Best case I see India winning a gold, worst I see Saina losing quarters and P. V. Sindhu semis.