Worrying draw for PV Sindhu; slim medal chances for Sai Praneeth and Satwik-Chirag
Far from a cakewalk, PV Sindhu, Sai Praneeth and Satwik-Chirag have been handed tricky draws for the Tokyo Olympics that will test their nerves as they vie for a medal.
The cards have been dealt and the trajectory has been etched as the Tokyo Olympics badminton draw has now been released by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
The Indian badminton contingent which is led by Rio 2016 silver medallist PV Sindhu, followed by 2019 World Championships bronze medallist B. Sai Praneeth and 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medallist pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have had their fate disclosed at the upcoming Games.
Remember watching Dumbledore pick out names from the Eternal Flame of the Goblet of Fire in Harry Potter for the Tri-wizard challenge? The draw for badminton at the Tokyo Olympics had a similar sense of excitement tinged with foreboding as it was conducted at the National Badminton Centre in England on July 8, 2021.
In an overview, India's star shuttler and best medal hope in badminton, World No. 7 PV Sindhu has been handed a moderately decent draw while World No. 15 B. Sai Praneeth has a projected path fraught with obstacles and the young World No. 10 duo of Satwik-Chirag have a punishing group stage to qualify, let alone the knockout match-ups later.
Almost happening like a reality check - the names dropped one after the other at the draw and the stars were pitted most agonisingly for the Indian shuttlers. Then again, this is the stage of the Olympics and hardly anything is a cakewalk here and the badminton draw was indicative of that fact.
PV Sindhu will have to walk on eggshells at the Tokyo Olympics
Out of 43 female shuttlers in the fray who have been divided into 13 groups of 3 and 1 group of 4, PV Sindhu, being the sixth seed has been placed in Group J.
Beginning with round robin clashes, the 2019 World Champion has relatively easy opponents to go past in the form of Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi and Israel's Ksenia Polikarpova. Ngan Yi can prove to be slightly difficult as the World No. 34 but even then, Sindhu is expected to sail through the group stage matches.
Moving on to the knockout rounds, Sindhu's first challenge will come from Denmark's Mia Blichfeldt in the Round of 16. A quarter-finalist at the All England Open 2021, the 23-year-old Blichfeldt at World No. 12 is not to be taken lightly.
Provided Sindhu manages to get past Blichfeldt, an all-too familiar Japanese opponent will be awaiting her in the quarter-finals. Poised to clash against the 24-year-old Akane Yamaguchi in the quarters, Sindhu enjoys an exciting rivalry with the relentless 5ft1inch shuttler.
In fact, to Sindhu's credit, she has the memories of a quarter-final clash at All England Open 2021 to look back upon where Yamaguchi really tested her before Sindhu prevailed in 1 hour 16 minutes, winning 16-21, 21-16, 21-19.
The path ahead is going to get only trickier for PV Sindhu as she will have to lock horns with World No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying in the last four, who is desperate for a medal in Tokyo to crown her already gilded career. Boasting of leading their head to head at 13-5, Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying is dangerously deceptive as an opponent and will be an incredibly trying hurdle.
If not Tai Tzu, there is a possibility that Sindhu might also have to encounter Thai veteran Ratchanok Intanon.
Managing to ride these tumultuous waves successfully, PV Sindhu will have to encounter China's Chen Yufei who is the top seed at the Tokyo Olympics. However, with this opponent Sindhu does not need to worry as much because she does lead their head to head at 6-4 but at the stage of the Olympics, nothing is going to come easy.
For the 2016 Rio silver medallist, upgrading to gold seems ambitious at this point after the draw release but there is no underestimating the progress Sindhu has made under Korean coach, Park tae-Sang and she will be pretty formidable at the Games.
Sai Praneeth's road is scattered with obstacles
The 13th-seeded B. Sai Praneeth who has been hailed as the 'surprise package' by former Chief National Coach of India, Vimal Kumar, has been placed in Group D. Praneeth, who will be making a debut at the Games, has a tricky group for starters as he has to fend off Netherland's Mark Caljouw who as the World No. 29 is enjoying a brilliant form - topped by a semi-final finish at the All England Open 2021. Other than Caljouw, there is Israel's Misha Zilberman to sail past for Praneeth.
After this point, it will be a steep uphill task for the 2019 World Championships bronze medallist as he will have no other option but to face NG Long ka Angus of Hong Kong in the Round of 16 before Japanese ace and raging medal favourite, Kento Momota, the top-seed awaits Praneeth in the quarters. Having defeated Praneeth 21-13, 21-9 at the World's, Momota won't be in a mood to be denied a medal on his home turf.
However, going ahead, the semi-finals can see challenges from 2016 Rio Games bronze medallist Viktor Axelsen or Indonesia's Jonatan Christie. Eventually, the final will see Praneeth square off against Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei, who is the second seed in Tokyo. There is a chance that Praneeth might also clash with Denmark's Anders Antonsen in the finals, if the stars align that way.
Toughest hand dealt to Satwik-Chirag
The youngest duo of the Indian badminton contingent, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who are barely into their 20's have an incredibly difficult line-up to negotiate with. Seeking to debut at the Tokyo Olympics and having onboarded Danish doubles specialist Mathias Boe to promote their efforts, Satwik-Chirag have the most formidable opponents in their half of the draw.
Lodged in Group A, Satwik-Chirag have World No. 1 Indonesian pair of Kevin Sukamuljo–Marcus Gideon a.k.a the 'Minions' in their fray and Chinese Taipei's sensational duo of Lee Yang-Wang Chi Lin who enjoyed a marvellous winning streak at the start of the year - winning the two Thailand Opens. To add to the troubled waters, there is also the British pair of Ben Lane-Sean Vendy who will await the dynamic duo of Satwik-Chirag.
Daring to indulge briefly, if the World No. 10 doubles pair of Satwik-Chirag manage to emerge on top of their group, they will go ahead and meet the runners-up of Group D which features the second seeded duo of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, who are eager to create more history. If Satwik-Chirag comes second in their Group A proceedings, they will go on to clash against the winners of Group B and Japanese home favourites Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe will pose a stiff challenge for the incredibly young combination.