Saina’s chance to rule the world is right here, she must seize it
The World Championships, which will be held in London from 8 August, is an important step towards achieving her bigger goal – an Olympic medal at the 2012 Games.
Terming a World Championship as a means to an end could be preposterous and I may myself laugh at any such suggestion in any other case. But for the Indian badminton contingent, including title contender Saina Nehwal, the 2011 edition to be held in London from 8 August is an important step towards achieving their bigger goal – the 2012 Olympics.
Ever since Saina began playing in the senior circuit, she has made no qualms of the fact that her ultimate goal has been to win an Olympic medal. And she still cannot forget that fateful day in August 2008 when she wasted an 11-3 lead in the decider against Maria Kristin Yulianti to bow out at the quarterfinal stage in Beijing.
Concerned with the heavy AC draft after changing sides in the decider, Saina tried to finish the rallies faster and ended up throwing in the towel. Big halls used for such events also throw up challenging playing conditions and the situation would be no different next year.
However, the top players will have the advantage of knowing the conditions better this time around as the World Championship is being played at the same venue (Wembley stadium) that will host the badminton event of the 2012 Games.
This would also mean that Saina will have an opportunity to test her mettle against her possible challengers in similar conditions that she would encounter one year from now.
According to the draw, Saina will get just one match under her belt before she faces a real challenger in Pui Yin Yip in the pre-quarters. While getting used to the conditions would be advantageous, it would be an icing on the cake if Saina could get the better of her indifferent form in the past six months and outplay the opposition. Something that could do a world of good to her confidence which seems to have plummeted of late.
For the other Indians in the fray, there is much more at stake. Five members of the 10-player contingent would be kick-starting their campaign for a maiden Olympic berth in the right earnest with the World Championship, which provides maximum ranking points for every victory by virtue of being a Level 1 tournament.
Barring any miracles, the men’s singles spot is a two-horse race between Commonwealth Gold medallist P Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram. Kashyap is currently ranked 28th while Jayaram is seven places behind him and every tournament they play from here on could make or break their chances of booking their flight to London.
India also has an outside chance of finding a berth in women’s doubles and mixed doubles. A year ago, a mixed doubles berth for Jwala Gutta and V Diju would have been a certainty. But a back injury kept Diju out of action for over three months and the former world number 8 has now slipped to 48th position.
The World Championship will be Jwala-Diju's first competitive outing since the injury induced lay-off and their performance in London could provide a clear indicator as to whether they will have any chance of making it to the Olympic squad. Only 16 pairs qualify in the doubles events.
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