PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth are tipped to make some serious history at the Glasgow World Championships starting in 10 days’ time. In what has been a stunning year for the duo in the run up to the Worlds — an Olympic silver for Sindhu, 22, and two back to back Super Series titles for Srikanth, 24, expectations will soar given their sheer love for the big stage and some attractive badminton they have played this last season. The one name they overshadowed over this period, though, is India’s original superstar Saina Nehwal. When the draws were released on Wednesday, Nehwal was thrown an almighty obstacle course.
Seeded 12th — perhaps her lowest since her breakout season a decade ago — the 27-year-old is looking for that one big win that can start the turnaround for her since the ill-fated knee injury that saw her exit the last big tournament — the Rio Games — against a Ukrainian opponent.
The Bangalore-based shuttler has since garnered an even more loyal fan following than her big success Sundays with 10 Super Series and an Olympic bronze and a World Championship silver kitty, fighting valiantly while struggling with post-recovery tightness. She picked up a title in Malaysia and was applauded for her dignified face-off with Sindhu as her seasoned game showed signs of resistance without really going the distance.
At Glasgow, Nehwal starts with a bye, might play a lung opener with a Swiss, before the biggies get thrown at her round after round. “It’s OK, the draw. Her quarter is tough no doubt, but when you are not in the top 8, this is expected. She’s coping well with the sessions, and needs one big win to get her confidence back,” says coach Vimal Kumar, who guided her to the Worlds final in Indonesia two seasons ago. “That was a different time. She’d just reached World No 1 but had never crossed the quarters in the World Championships. She’s a fighter,” he says, propping up his ward’s confidence by focussing on the positives.
For sure, Nehwal had shown remarkable composure when the going’s gotten tough — patiently picking up wins that just two years ago would’ve seemed like strolls in the park. There’s plentiful resilience in making peace with the body that needed effort in patching back together and taking in her stride losses that would’ve chipped at the belief of a lesser player. Her resolve hasn’t flaked off, though Glasgow has not offered her particular respite as far as the draw goes.
There is the pugnacious retriever Sung Ji Hyun possibly in Round 3 — Nehwal’s beaten her often even in the last one year, but the Korean specialises in making lives difficult and has her deceptive strokes even if there’s a dearth of outright kill-weapons.
There is left-handed He Bingjiao, the Chinese sixth seed who is rated highly in quarters, before the big wall in the semis – either the feisty Spaniard Carolina Marin who has been cooped up back home preparing for the Worlds after an indifferent Super Series season, or the eternally under-rated Japanese Nozomi Okuhara — both Olympic medallists. Marin clearly has been handed the toughest quarter (wristy whiz Tai Tzu Ying, World No 1 is missing choosing World Universiade, and Akane Yamaguchi is top seed) though Nehwal’s path is no breeze either.
“There’s no pressure on her this time, she can play freely,” Vimal says, adding that the duo have worked on variations from the back court and course-corrected on the net where she’d been guilty of pushing the shuttle too back. “It’s very open the competition. Saina’s played well in Australia, and lost only to good players and close matches. She’ll fight like always,” the coach adds.
Sun test for PV Sindhu
India’s Olympic sensation PV Sindhu starts with a bye too, and should start against Korean Kim Hyo Min, though her first test will be the tall Chinese Sun Yu. The Indian has shown remarkable big occasion temperament – something that the Chinese has lacked, including at the China Open last November.
Though she’s scored wins against most of the top names in the upper half of the draw – Akane Yamaguchi and Ratchanok Intanon — it’s the two Chinese floaters Chen Yufei (seeded 9th) and Chen Xiaoxin (seeded 14) who can wreck havoc in the top half. Sindhu, though, should fancy her chances of making the finals, and improving upon her two bronze medals.
Kidambi Srikanth path smooth
For India’s top men’s singles player Kidambi Srikanth, there is a familiar punching bag, Korean Son Won Ho, placed in his half and seemingly stopping his path to the semifinal. That’s no Chen Long, Chong Wei or Lin Dan till the semis, only Tommy Sugiarto to be wary of. Sai Praneeth starts against Wei Nan and needs to hurdle over game-sake Chou Tien Chen, while Ajay Jayram has Chen Long and Sameer Verma Lin Dan in their paths of progress.