Stage set for shuttle service

Badminton: Indian hopes pinned on Saina as World Championship begins

The Arena: Gachibowli Stadium, the venue of the mega event. DH photo/ Kishore Kumar Bolar

There is the defending men’s champion Lin Dan, as well as world number one Lee Chong Wei, the two overwhelming favourites to contest the title. Though no longer in the same league as Lin and Wei, former All England champion Taufik Hidayat is still a force to reckon with, especially given the nature of the draw this year.

No player has won the World title thrice in a row. But having won the previous two titles (2008 was a non-World Championship event because of the Olympics), Lin is on the cusp of history. The top-heavy draw, however, may just dash his hopes, and the Chinese ace will have only himself to blame.

A majority of the top-ranked Chinese skipped a handful of tournaments in the run-up to the World meet, resulting in them losing crucial ranking points and slipping down the charts. Currently ranked fifth in the world, Lin is clubbed with Wei and former All England champion Peter Gade in the top half. Olympic champion Lin, who should have few problems reaching the quarters, is likely meet Gade in the last eight and then in all probability Wei in the semifinals.

History is heavily stacked against Wei and Gade when up against Lin, but then not for nothing are they ranked one and three respectively in the world. Twice a runner-up at the Worlds, Gade says he is hopeful of winning the elusive gold this time. “I think I still can beat the Chinese. I have two silver and a bronze, I want gold this time,” said the Danish veteran.

Easy draw
Hidayat, by contrast, has a relatively easier draw. The temperamental Indonesian, no stranger to the City having won the Indian Open in March, could face off against Chinese world number two Chen Jin in the semis. If he can cross that hurdle and keep his focus, anything is possible for the world number four.

Like her partner Lin, Xie Xingfang too is aiming for a record third women's World title. But the Chinese will have to share the limelight with local lass Saina Nehwal. The Hyderabadi, who appears to have completely recovered from chicken pox, will be under huge pressure playing in front of her home crowd.

Saina, though, seems unperturbed by all the attention. “I have been practising for the last five days, and I went full steam in the last two days. Right now, I am not thinking of anything, be it chicken pox or the pressure. I am just concentrating on the competitions,” observed the world number six.     
 
First-round bye
The Indian ace has a bye in first round and will then face the winner of the match between Poland's Olga Konon and Russian Alexandra Prokopenko.

Nehwal could face 10th-seeded Bulgarian Petya Nedelcheva in the third round and, if she lives up to her ranking, will run into second-ranked Wang Lin in the quarterfinals. Other big names in Nehwal's half of the draw are third-seeded Tine Rasmussen and seventh-seeded Lu Lan.  Meanwhile, India’s chances of a medal received a shot in the arm with England’s pull-out. The mixed doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and D Viju, who have a bye in the first round, are now through to the third round. Jwala and Diju were to have met the formidable English pair of Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork in the second round.

Robertson has been a former doubles champion with Gail Emms. 

The Indians in the fray on the opening day of the singles event are Chetan Anand and Aditi Mutatkar.

Faces to follow in Hyderabad over the next seven days
* Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia): Ranked 1
The 2008 Bejing Olympics silver medallist. Winner of nine Super Series titles, Chong is yet to win a World Championship title -- his best being a bronze in 2005.

* Chen Jin (China)
Ranked 2
Asian Junior Badminton Champion in 2004. Clinched the All-England title in 2008, defeating Lin Dan.

* Peter Gade (Denmark): Ranked 3
Won the All England in 1999. He also has won four European  titles. Known for his fast attacks, smooth footwork, constant pressure and deceptive shots.

* Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia): Ranked 4
The 2004 Athens Olympics gold medallist arguably has the fastest backhand which has been recorded at over 200 km/h. His propensity to make errors and impatience with loud crowds are a few of his weaknesses.

* Lin Dan (China)
Ranked 5
The 2008 Olympic gold medallist has been nicknamed "Super Dan" by his adoring mainland fans and "Mr Funny Ball" in Europe. World champion in 2006 and 2007, he is also a four-time All England champion.

* Women’s singles:
Zhou Mi (Hong Kong)
Ranked 1
The 2003 All-England Champion represented China for much of her career, but since 2007 has appeared for Hong Kong.
The top seed’s recent form has been up and down from winning the Singapore Super Series to crashing out in Indonesian Open in the first round itself.

* Wang Lin (China)
Ranked 2
The highest seeded Chinese player in the tournament, but without a title to show in 2009. A potential rematch of the Indonesian Super Series final awaits her in the quarterfinal against Saina Nehwal.

* Tine Rasmussen (Denmark) Ranked 3
The 2008 All England champion, started this year on a high after winning the Japan and Malaysia Super Series.
A heel injury kept her out of action for the last six months. Has a total of seven Super Series titles.

* Wang Yihan (China)
Ranked 4
The 21-year-old rose to fame this year with wins at the All-England and the Swiss Super Series. The prolific Yihan conquered the Asian Junior and World Junior championships in 2006 that prompted her promotion to the senior circuit.

* Saina Nehwal (India):
Ranked 6
The 19-year-old became the first Indian to win a ‘Super Series’ tournament after triumphing in Indonesia.

Also the first Indian woman to reach the singles quarterfinals at the Olympics and the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships. The home favourite is recovering after a bout of chicken pox.

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