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The BWF Championships are here, but are the Indians ready?

P.V. Sindhu

P.V. Sindhu   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

In the crucial Olympic qualification period, the BWF Championships will be the first big indicator of their preparedness

A lack of winning momentum plagues the Indian contingent which heads to the BWF World championships at Basel, Switzerland.

India’s leading stars have faced a title drought, with Saina Nehwal standing out as only one among the six singles players to have won a tournament this year. Saina’s success came in January, at the Indonesia Masters, when Carolina Marin withdrew with an injury during the first game of their final. P.V. Sindhu, the other women’s singles hope, has flattered to deceive - a silver medal at the Indonesia Open last month counting as her best finish.

The men’s singles shuttlers - K. Srikanth, Sameer Verma, H.S. Prannoy and Sai Praneeth - have yet to hit their straps. In this crucial Olympic qualification year, tournament results do not necessarily paint an accurate picture of form. This is because injury prevention is the top priority, leading players to pick and choose tournaments. In an ideal scenario, careful planning will allow players to snatch enough ranking points to seal an Olympic berth, while also allowing the body to reach peak fitness going into the marquee event at Tokyo.

But there is no picking and choosing when it comes to the World championships. This tournament offers the ultimate bragging rights for the calendar year; the Indians and the rest of the field will come out all guns blazing.

A look at what is in store for India’s shuttlers:

SINGLES:

P.V. Sindhu

Ranked: No. 5

Age: 24

2019 win-loss: 19-9 (68%)

Titles: 0

Runner-up: 1 (Indonesia Open)

Sindhu withdrew from the Thailand Open a couple of weeks ago, in an effort to focus on the World championships. The 24-year-old has endured a tough trophyless season, which started with a quarterfinal loss to nemesis Carolina Marin at the Indonesia Masters in January. Sindhu has since found it tough to overcome newly crowned World No. 1 Akane Yamaguchi, falling to the Japanese opponent twice in her last two tournaments. A possible quarterfinal outing against Taiwan’s World No. 2 Tai Tzu Ying will test Sindhu. Tai holds a 10-4 head-to-head advantage over the Indian, though it was Sindhu who came out on top when the two last met (BWF World tour finals, December 2018).

Saina Nehwal

Ranked: No. 8

Age: 29

2019 win-loss: 15-8 (65%)

Titles: 1 (Indonesia Masters)

Runner-up: 0

Saina Nehwal.

Saina Nehwal.  

 

After missing the Indonesia Open and Japan Open due to injuries, Saina returned to action at the Thailand Open. The comeback trail ended in the round-of-16, after a 21-16, 11-21, 14-21 loss to World No. 15 Sayaka Takahashi. Saina struggled with injuries in the first half of the year and is still not close to full fitness. The draw poses a challenge as well, as Saina is poised to take on China’s World No. 3 Chen Yu Fei in the quarterfinal. Chen is in terrific touch, having racked up four titles this year, including the prestigious All-England championship. If results do go their way, Saina and Sindhu could face each other in a tantalising semifinal clash.

K. Srikanth

Ranked: No. 10

Age: 26

2019 win-loss: 16-10 (61%)

Titles: 0

Runner-up: 1 (India Open)

The stage was set for K. Srikanth to dominate the field, but things have not gone to plan.

The stage was set for K. Srikanth to dominate the field, but things have not gone to plan.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

Two years ago, Srikanth was flying high, having claimed four Super Series titles. He then ascended to the World No. 1 spot in 2018. The stage was set for the Guntur shuttler to dominate the field, but things have not gone to plan. Injuries and a serious dip in form have seen Srikanth slide down the rankings, and the silverware has been hard to come by. A silver in the Indian Open counts as his best performance of the year. If Srikanth can get past the early rounds, he could face second-seed Chou Tien Chen in the last-eight. This will be a mighty hurdle to cross, as Chen enters the World championship in great form, having won the Thailand and Indonesia Open.

Sameer Verma

Ranked: No. 14

Age: 24

2019 win-loss: 7-12 (37%)

Titles: 0

Runner-up: 0

Primed: Sameer Verma will be looking to regain his form in the lead-up to the World championship.

Primed: Sameer Verma will be looking to regain his form in the lead-up to the World championship.   | Photo Credit: STR

 

Since his return from a shoulder injury last month, Sameer has struggled to get into the groove. He has suffered three consecutive first-round defeats – at the Japan Open, Thailand Open and Hyderabad Open. The Hyderabad Open campaign was the most surprising, as Sameer entered the Super 100 event as the defending champion.

A forgettable day at the office, however, saw Sameer succumb to a shock 18-21, 11-21 loss to lower-ranked South Korean Heo Kwang Hee. Like Srikanth, Sameer must deal with powerhouse Tien Chen in the World championship draw. Sameer will have to pull out all the stops if he hopes to get past Chen in round 3.

Sai Praneeth

Ranked: No. 19

Age: 27

2019 win-loss: 14-11 (56%)

Titles: 0

Runner-up: 1 (Swiss Open)

B. Sai Praneeth

B. Sai Praneeth  

 

When in full flow, Praneeth is a treat to watch. But the 27-year-old is oftentimes inconsistent, leading to periods of severe frustration. During the Premier Badminton League in January this year, chief National coach P. Gopichand explained that while Praneeth has great skills, he needs to develop his fitness so that he can “play the long matches with the same speed at which he does in the first and the second games”. This problem came to the fore in a recent Japan Open semifinal outing against World No. 1 Kento Momota, where Praneeth kept Momota guessing in the opening game with some electric play. But when Momota began to find his range, Praneeth crumbled. He will have to iron out all flaws in quick time if he hopes to stay alive for the latter rounds of the World championships.

H.S. Prannoy

Ranked: No. 30

Age: 27

2019 win-loss: 10-12 (45%)

Titles: 0

Runner-up: 0

H.S. Prannoy.

H.S. Prannoy.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

 

With only three quarterfinal finishes to show as his best returns for the year, Prannoy enters the World championship short on confidence. A round-of-32 loss to Malaysia’s World No. 138 Jia Wei Tan in the Hyderabad Open casts serious doubts about Prannoy’s readiness for this big event. If he can get past Finland’s Eetu Heino in round 1, Prannoy will take on Chinese legend and five-time World champion Lin Dan in round 2.

DOUBLES:

With a terrific title-run in the Thailand Open, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chiraj Shetty have raised the profile of men’s doubles in the country. The duo was set to carry this momentum into the World championships, but injuries have robbed them of the chance to shine.

India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty pose with their medals and trophy after winning the Thailand Open 2019 badminton doubles title in Bangkok on August 4, 2019.

India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty pose with their medals and trophy after winning the Thailand Open 2019 badminton doubles title in Bangkok on August 4, 2019.  

 

While Satwiksairaj is out with a shoulder problem, Chirag is down with abdomen discomfort. The mixed doubles combination of Pranav Jerry Chopra and N. Sikki Reddy will also miss the action, as the former is injured.

Ashwini Ponnappa, meanwhile, teams up with Sikki in women’s doubles. The combination has loads of experience and quality, though it remains to be seen if it can deliver on the big stage.

Other pairs:

Men: Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy, M.R. Arjun-Shlok Ramchandran, and Arun George-Sanyam Shukla

Women: K. Meghana-Poorvisha Ram, and D. Pooja-Sanjana Santosh.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 5:48:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/the-bwf-championships-are-here-but-are-the-indians-ready/article29114229.ece

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