Bolstered by a favourable draw, a fit-again Saina Nehwal will look to record her maiden podium finish when she leads the country’s strongest ever squad at the 2013 BWF World Championships to be played here from August 5-11.
A medal at the World Championships has eluded Saina so far as she could only reach the quarterfinals in the last two editions in 2009 and 2011. The 23-year-old from Hyderabad will look to better her record this time around.
The world number three has been going through a lean patch for the last nine months as she has failed to win a single tournament but a six-week break after the Southeast Asian circuit in June has given the Indian ample time to regain fitness.
Luck also seems to be at her side as she has got a bye in the first round and will open her campaign against the winner of Russian Olga Golovanova (ranked 66) and Bulgarian Alesia Zaitsava (ranked 104).
Saina is likely to meet her first challenger in Thai Porntip Buranaprasertsuk, who is ranked No.18 in the world but she has never beaten Saina in five career meetings.
The London Olympics bronze medallist may face either Japanese Minatsu Mitani (ranked 10th) or Korean Bae Yeon Ju (ranked 16th) in the quarterfinals. Though Saina has a 3-1 record against Mitani and a 5-2 advantage against Bae, the Indian would need to be careful against them if she has to win at least a bronze at the Worlds.
According to the tournament rules, any player reaching the semi-finals is assured of a bronze medal.
“There were doubts in my mind in June as I was not 100 per cent fit but I have been working very hard for the last few weeks,” said Saina, whose first real challenge in the event would come only in the semifinals where Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui of China is likely to be waiting for her.
“I don’t want to think too far ahead and will like to take it one match at a time. I hope to be at my best in China.
I know if I’m at my best I can win again,” she added.
Besides Saina, India will have P.V.Sindhu starring in the women’s singles line-up and the world number 12 will look to sprang a few surprises in her maiden appearance at the world championship.
Sindhu, who also starts with a bye, will face the winner of Aprilla Yuswandari (ranked 22) of Indonesia and Japan’s Kaori Imabeppu (ranked 32) in the second round. If she can cross the hurdle, Sindhu will have a bigger challenge in world number two Chinese Yihan Wang.
In the men’s singles, Parupalli Kashyap is likely to clash with World No 6 Hu Yun of Hong Kong -- who will be his teammate for Banga Beats at the Indian Badminton league (IBL) -- in the third round. If Kashyap can beat Hu Yun, he is expected to face China’s Du Pengyu (ranked third) in the quarterfinals.
Ajay Jayaram has been placed in the second half of the draw and in the very first round, the unseeded Indian will face world no. 12 Wong Wing Ki of Hong Kong.
In the men’s doubles, Tarun Kona and Arun Vishnu will take on Polish duo of Adam Cwalina and Przemyslaw Wacha, while another Indian pair of Akshay Dewalkar and Pranaav Jerry Chopra will face German combo of Josche Zurwonne and Peter Kaesbauer.
In women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and Pradnya Gadre will meet Marie Roepke and Line Damkjaer Kruse of Denmark, while N Siki Reddy and Aparna Balan will be up against English pair of Gabrielle White and Lauren Smith.
India will be represented by the combination of Aparna Balan and Arun Vishnu, and the pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Tarun Kona in the mixed doubles category.
National chief coach Pullela Gopichand exuded confidence of a good performance by the strong Indian team.
“Preparation has been good for World Championships. We were able to prepare well since we got good time during the last four-five weeks. Every member of the team stands a chance to do well. Besides Saina, it could also be Kashyap, Ajay Jayaram, Sindhu or Ashwini and Pradnya, Ashwini and Tarun,” Gopichand said.
“You have to just take one match at a time. There is no easy match in tournaments like World Championships. You need to be alert and I would rather take it one match at a time than think about the next match,” he added.
Women’s doubles pair of Ashwini and Jwala had ended India’s 28-year-old medal drought at the World Championships by winning the bronze medal in 2011.