World Badminton Championships 2017: PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal title clash on the cards?
History beckons Indian badminton and its golden girls—P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal—as they get ready for their semi-final clashes at the BWF World Championships 2017 in Glasgow. The two are already assured of a medal each, an achievement which is itself a milestone for badminton in the country.
Following Sindhu’s emphatic win over Chinese Sun Yu on Friday, she became the first Indian to win three Worlds medals in four appearances. Ont the other hand, Nehwal booked her second medal by fighting past local girl Kirsty Gilmour in three games. This would also be the first time in the 40-year history of the flagship event that the Indian contingent will return home with multiple medals.
The legendary Prakash Padukone won country’s first medal, a bronze, at the Worlds in 1983, a feat which was repeated by Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa (2011) and Sindhu (2013, 2014) before Nehwal bettered the colour of the medal, winning a silver in 2015.
Since Nehwal’s historic bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the world badminton landscape has changed; the Chinese hegemony already has been broken, and Sindhu restored everyone’s faith with her silver in Rio. So, a gold at the World Championships is something not far-fetched for the Indian shuttle queens.
Nehwal was a finalist in the 2015 edition, and there was never any doubt that she couldn’t better the colour of the medal until her injury-prone knee has seen her limping out of tournaments, including the Rio Olympics, only to undergo a career-threatening surgery last September. Her only title after the surgery was the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold in January.
While on the other hand, Sindhu has made winning her habit ever since her Rio show; she has two Super Series and a Grand Prix Gold title to her name. Thus, the fans were devoid of a dream Indian final: Nehwal vs Sindhu in many major tournaments.
Nehwal vs Sindhu in final?
With Nehwal and Sindhu placed in the opposite halves of the draw, the vision of an all-Indian final raised even before the World Championships started. The pull-out of World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei already opened up chances for Sindhu and last evening’s shocking results - the ouster of the dangerous Carolina Marin, a two-time champion and Japanese top seed Akane Yamaguchi has further strengthened hopes.
For Nehwal, who has stayed out of the spotlight for a while now owing to her injury, these World Championships have witnessed her rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The way she fought back in her matches, against Sung Ji Hyun and Kirsty Gilmour, it was clear that she was not letting go this opportunity to leave a mark; she clearly made out the statement that she was back where she belonged to.
Should Nehwal square off with Sindhu, she would be looking to avenge the defeat at the India Open Super Series in March this year; their last meeting in two BWF events so far. The duo have met in local tournaments like the Premier Badminton League and have a 1-1 record.
At Glasgow, when Nehwal was asked about a possible all-Indian final this Sunday, she said she didn’t want to read too much into the prospect and stated that she is rather focused on today’s match. “There’s still one more match to go for both of us,” the senior player of the two said.
Of late, a rivalry between the two has grown since the 22-year-old Sindhu has taken over the baton from her senior compatriot following her Rio show. This has also been witnessed during tournaments as the duo have avoided eye contact or greeting each other. National chief coach Pullela Gopichand though has said he doesn't mind the on-court rivalry between his current protege Sindhu, and Nehwal, saying, "If it helps their performances get better, I am happy."
The rivalry apart, it will be a chance for both the players to change the colour of their medals and win a historic gold. Also, the outcome of an all-Indian final is going to be huge in terms of India's dominance at the world stage. Only the Chinese and the Indonesians have done it before. China has placed two women in the final 12 times while Indonesia have done it once.
What are the chances?
Against Okuhara, Nehwal looks stronger on paper with a 6-1 win record against the World No. 12 Japanese, the last meeting between them being won by the 27-year-old Indian at the 2017 All England Championships. Also, going by the Nehwal’s performance in the past two days, she should progress into the final. But she did hint a tough match on cards, as she said, “It won’t be an easy match. She’s very tricky player and picks up all the strokes.”
For Sindhu, Yufei might make things difficult for her. The Chinese is the reigning Asia Junior and World Junior champion and is the latest star in their women’s singles camp. She would certainly be ready to tackle the Indian with her array of strokes. The players have a 1-1 record with the World No. 10 beating Sindhu in three games in their last meeting at the 2017 Malaysia Open.
It will be interesting to see what tactics Nehwal and Sindhu employ to surprise their opponents and add another chapter of glory into the sport’s history.