No Marin, No Momota — Can Sindhu and co. make the most out of it at the Badminton World Championships?
Devoid of the biggest stars as well as threats, the Indian badminton squad led by reigning World Champion PV Sindhu has better chances of shining with medals now.
With the 2021 BWF badminton season neatly wrapped up, only one more tournament remains on the horizon and it is the most-awaited and prestigious one - the BWF World Championships that is due to take place in Huelva, Spain from 12th to the 19th of December, 2021. Usually, the platform where the top shuttlers turn gladiators to fight for the coveted crown over intense rallies, mean drop-shots, and seething smashes, the 2021 edition of the biennial tournament will however be a little bit of a lack-luster affair as two of the biggest names in Men's Singles and Women's Singles - 2-time World Champion Kento Momota and 3-time World Champion Carolina Marin will be a no-show at the tournament.
While this spells a bit of gloom for the organizers who would have wanted these top-billing players to show up at the event, what is a further blow is that the Indonesian contingent comprising World No. 1 men's doubles pair of Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo a.k.a The Minions will also be absent as will the defending champion duo of Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan will be missing from the Championships. Indonesia's decision is mostly centered on the recent coronavirus threat - the omicron variant which is raging strongly in the European nations.
Concerns of the tournament losing its sheen definitely on the worry-list of the organizers, especially after Momota, the defending champion for the Men's Singles crown pulled out citing injury reasons and home-favorite and 3-time World Champion Carolina Marin also decided to sit out the tournament, following her knee surgery earlier this year. Ironically enough, the event will be played in a stadium named after the 5-time European champion and Rio Olympics gold medallist - Carolina Marin, but sadly, Marin's process to recovery isn't complete yet and therefore the comeback plans of the Spanish superstar had to be delayed.
In fact, the 2019 World Championships silver medallist Nozomi Okuhara will also not be present at the tournament too. Additionally, Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Chen Yufei will also be absent much like other top Chinese players.
With so many star players and top contenders for the crown missing from the event, it only means the Indian badminton contingent at Huelva can have a field day if they play their cards just right. With a lot of threats out of the way, especially for PV Sindhu, Sawtiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, Kidambi Srikanth, and Lakshya Sen - the medals should be more in-reach of the Indian badminton stars.
A blessed boon for the Indian badminton stars?
For reigning World Champion, PV Sindhu - the absence of Carolina Marin definitely comes as a big boon. The 2-time Olympic medallist has been enjoying an impressively consistent form with a silver medal finish at the recently-concluded World Tour Finals, where Sindhu went down fighting against Korean teen sensation, An Se Young. Sindhu's draw at the World Championships isn't the kindest but with the possibility of meeting Carolina Marin in the semi-finals out of the way, Sindhu can definitely breathe a sigh of relief. Fair enough, Marin has been largely absent in tournaments this year and Sindhu has already made the most out of it - reaching the semi-final stages of a string of tournaments back-to-back, but the stage of the World Championships is a different ball game.
It is no well-kept secret that PV Sindhu fires in the big guns when she is on the big stage and the 5-time World Championship medallist is already super eager to take the number to six, if not defend the crown itself. En route, Sindhu will be thrown with challenges from Thailand's young force, Pornpawee Chochuwong, and in the quarters, a possible meet-up with arch-rival and familiar foe, Tai Tzu-ying is already imminent. It remains to be seen if Sindhu can overcome these two threats and keep her nose ahead and while at it, exact revenge from Tai Tzu for the Tokyo Olympics semi-final defeat.
For the men's singles - Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, who have been in a great form of late as well, with semi-final finishes to add to their name, the absence of Kento Momota from the fray will be a good tiding. The hectic badminton schedule has got to many with closely-spaced tournaments and the injuries have also gone up, taking a toll on both mind and body, forcing players to retire mid-match (Kento Momota only played for a minute against Lakshya Sen in his opening match at the World Tour Finals). However, the absence can act as a boon here too as Momota, the World No. 2 is a major threat on every occasion, and neither Srikanth nor Sen have been able to tame him in their recent meetings. However, there will be Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Viktor Axelsen to worry about for the men's singles Indian badminton squad.
Finally, in the men's doubles, Satwik-Chirag can also relax a little as The Minions are missing from the scene at the World Championships. However, the dynamic men's doubles had to withdraw from the men's doubles event at the World Tour Finals after Satwik struggled with a 'niggle in the knee' - it remains to be seen if Satwik has fully recovered from it, once he hits the court. However, the chances for faring well look sharp for the World No. 9 pair who are also eager to make the most out of this.