New format and new challenges. The Sudirman Cup went for a change in format in 2011 edition at Qindao in China in which the countries are grouped according to the team rankings. As India have made a slow and steady rise in world badminton, thanks mainly to Saina Nehwal, they are ranked tenth in the world in this year edition at Kuala Lumpur. Based on Saina’s show, coupled with Parupalli Kashyap and PV Sindhu performances in recent times, India’s stock rose in world badminton in the last couple of years.
India are among the top ten nations. But as the team prepares for May 19-26 Sudirman Cup, the world mixed team championship event, they suffered a major setback to their campaign with world number two Saina Nehwal pulling out at the last minute because of a freak injury to her left leg. She reportedly banged her leg to the door, resulting a fracture to her little toe.
But Saina’s withdrawal has given an opportunity to Sindhu to lead India’s challenge along with Parupalli Kashyap. Chief coach Pullela Gopichand agreed that Saina’s injury is a big blow but he was confident that young Sindhu would capitalize on this opportunity.
“India had always looked to Saina, given her spectacular performances, in big events. But the unfortunate injury has upset our plans. Saina has been injured for a while and the post-India Open, she has not been able to train vigorously,” Gopichand said.
Fresh from her maiden Malaysian Grand Prix Gold title, the 17-year-old Sindhu will be high on confidence.
“Sindhu’s performance is very refreshing. Overall, she is somebody, who has made good strides in the last few months. It will be a huge experience to play in team championship at the age of 17 years,” Gopichand said.
That India are in Group ‘A’ of Level 1 with China and inaugural champs Indonesia is a huge challenge for the team.
Gopichand did not hesitate to say India are in tough group. “We have been working hard and we do expect some good results,” he said.
“India, who play China first, are expecting a possible win against Indonesia, the second team in the team. As far as singles is concerned, whether it is China or Indonesia, they are strong teams. But we have players who have beaten them in the past. I’m hopeful we get some good results in singles. If everything comes right on that particular day, there is a cause of an upset, which we are capable of,” he added.
Both Kashyap and Sindhu had wins against the top-ranked Chinese players. Kashyap had beaten world number two Chen Long, the number one Chinese player once, while Sindhu had shocked women’s world number one Li Xuerui last year and then Shixian Wang this year.
But Sudirman Cup has three doubles and two singles matches in each round. This is where India will face problem against a strong China who have number one ranked combination in women’s and mixed doubles.
Gopichand says that it is going to be tough against China. “Our strength has been basically been singles and Sudirman Cup is has three doubles events and two singles,” he said.
But the former All England champion is realistic about India’s chances against Indonesia. Both Kashyap and Sindhu are higher ranked than the Indonesian singles players and if world number 50 Ashwini Ponnappa and Pradyna Gadre pull off victory against Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth and Rizki Amelia Pradipta, who are ranked tenth in the world, in the women’s doubles, India can advance to the quarterfinals.
“We got some good results in singles. Parupalli Kashyap has good wins in the past. Kashyap is an experienced player. If you look at Anand (Pawar)’s performances in the last two months, it has been pretty good. I think if we look to Indonesia, singles wise, we have an edge and doubles, I think in women’s doubles, we have a decent chance. If we are able to win what we can, then it is possible to beat Indonesia.The Indian team has a young crop of players,” said an optimistic Gopichand.