BWF World Championships 2019: Indian shuttlers look to overcome dismal form in crucial Olympic qualification year

Shivam Damohe

The Indian contingent heads to the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships in Basel, Switzerland not in the right shape. A lack of winning momentum has plagued the country's top shuttlers with no real threat to offer against the top guns, considering their dismal performances on the court.

There has been a title drought in the Indian camp, with Saina Nehwal the only one among the six singles players to have won a tournament this year. Nehwal won the Indonesia Masters in January when reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin withdrew with an ACL injury in the final.

On the other hand, PV Sindhu has had a topsy-turvy season with a silver medal at the Indonesia Open last month counting as her best finish.

Meanwhile, the men's singles shuttlers €" Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma, HS Prannoy and Sai Praneeth €" are yet to hit the ground running.

In this crucial Olympic qualification year, staying injury-free is paramount for the players and coaches, which has also led to a picking and choosing of tournaments in the 2019 calendar year. The off-colour performances don't paint a clear picture of the shuttlers' trajectory so far as they look to relish the bigger challenges to collect enough ranking points to book a ticket to Tokyo next year.

The World Championships is a different ballgame, where all top contenders and the surprise packages prove their mettle on the court.

Women's draw:

With Marin in rehab, Nozomi Okuhara witnessing a dip in form and Akane Yamaguchi ruling the roost, Sindhu can guide herself to a podium finish on the coming Sunday.

Yamaguchi sits in the top half of the women's draw. The Japanese threat in Okuhara and Yamaguchi can hurt many on the women's circuit but it's the Chinese who are coming back strongly.

After missing a podium finish in Rio, He Bingjiao and the cerebral Chen Yufei have clinched four titles in 2019. The likes of Cai Yan Yan and Yue Han also have some great wins this year.

Sindhu, who has won silver medals in the previous two editions, could face Linda Zetchiri in the second round after receiving a bye in the first, and the strongest underdog in Beiwen Zhang before crossing swords with the Chinese shuttlers. Despite tough competition, Sindhu has sported a matured and patient show at major tournaments this year. She has avoided niggles and relied on new strokes in her arsenal.

Another huge challenge awaits in Tai Tzu Ying, who is in Sindhu's quarter. The Chinese Taipei shuttler could derail Sindhu's good run coming up in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, Nehwal, who also received a bye in the first round, could run into local favourite Sabrina Jaquet should the Swiss win her opening round. The 28-year-old Indian played against the Swiss in her lung-opener at the 2012 London Olympics and 2017 World Championships. She managed to bag bronze medals on both occasions. But the Indian has a tough route to a podium finish this time as she could potentially face Denmark's skilful Mia Blichfeldt and the in-form Yufei in the last eight.

Men's draw:

While none of the men's shuttlers have been convincing this season, there's still a possibility of a surprise in Basel. If any of them is eager to redeem form, now would be a good time to prove the doubters wrong.

Srikanth enters his fifth World Championships as the seventh seed and is set to face Ireland's Vietnam-born Nhat Nguyen, the same player against whom he opened his 2018 campaign in Nanjing, China, winning in straight games in what was their first and only head-to-head in the international circuit.

He looks a bit jaded on court, but that shouldn't be a problem against the World No 81. The Guntur lad reached the India Open final this year only to lose to Denmark's Viktor Axelsen. Since then, Srikanth's performances have been below-par. The 2019 stats suggest that the 26-year-old is yet to go beyond the quarter-final stage of major tournaments. He bowed out in the last-eight round in five of his first six tournaments in this year's first four months. Staggering!

His previous four participations at the Worlds €" in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 €" have been the pre-quarter-final losses and a quarter-final finish last year. Srikanth's potential pre-quarterfinalist would be twelfth seeded Thailand's Kantaphon Wangcharoen.

B Sai Praneeth opens his campaign against Canada's Jason Anthony Ho-Shue. The 16th seed is expected to face Indonesian Anthony Ginting in the third round. He didn't ruffle any feathers last year and hasn't had the best of seasons in 2019 too. Despite boasting great on-court skills, Praneeth crumbles under indifferent form and inconsistency.

Prannoy has been unlucky in the last 14 months or so. After making it to the top-10 last season with a bronze medal at the Asian Badminton Championships, the Kannur-born shuttler has succumbed to health issues. He could face the evergreen Lin Dan on his way, but that won't stop him from surging ahead as he has earned the tag of a 'giant-killer' for a reason. Even if he manages to down Lin, he could run into another giant in Japanese World No 1 Kento Momota. Missing out on the Arjuna award did not go well for the backhand specialist and it's a perfect opportunity for him to channel his anger on the court.

There is no doubt that Sameer was India's best bet last year. But a shoulder injury last month hampered his progress. With three consecutive first-round defeats €" at the Japan Open, Thailand Open and Hyderabad Open €" the attacking shuttler would struggle to remain consistent at such a grand stage.

His mix of attack and defence coupled with incredible forehand prowess make him a threat, but his rhythm remains a doubt. If everything goes as planned against Singapore's Loh Kean Yew, Sameer will run into the Taiwanese beast Chou Tien Chen in the third round. It will be a massive result if he pulls off another miraculous show.

Doubles

With Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy pulling out of the tournament, India's doubles challenge looks fragile. The men's doubles pair of Manu Attri/ B Sumeeth Reddy, MR Arjun/ Ramchandran Shlok, and Arun George/ Sanyam Shukla are slated to play on Monday, but it would be interesting to see if they could send some big names packing.

Hyderabad Open winners Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy have enough experience and swift combination to trouble top pairs in the women's doubles section. In the mixed doubles, Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy are India's only hope. The duo takes on English mixed pair of Ben Lane and Jessica Pugh in the first round.

Also See: BWF World Championships 2019: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal chase elusive gold medal; Kidambi Srikanth targets good show

BWF World Championships 2019: PV Sindhu focussing on improving fitness, defence in search of elusive gold at showpiece event

World Badminton Championships 2019: Carolina Marin withdraws after failing to recover from injury; HS Prannoy gets a spot

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