THOUGH INDIA has sent a large 18-member contingent to the World Badminton Championships, its shuttlers will find it tough to earn medals when the annual tournament gets going in Jakarta on Monday.
The heaviest responsibility will once again fall on the shoulders of the country's badminton queens -- Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu -- at the Istora Senayan 9,000-seater stadium.
This will be Olympic bronze medallist Saina's sixth Worlds -- with all previous attempts having ended in the quarter-finals. Seeded No.2, the 25-year-old has a first round bye and is likely to have it easy until the last eight stage where she is likely to face former World Champion Yihan Wang of China.
The former World No.1 Yihan has an imposing 9-2 advantage over the Indian. Out of the two "victories" over the Olympic silver medallist for Saina, the first one was when Yihan retired in Denmark in 2012.
But importantly, No.2 Saina earned her first real win over the Chinese in their last meeting in March during the All England Open where the Hyderabadi thrashed Yihan 21-19, 21-6.
To add to it, Saina has been in prime form this season. She reached the peak of the rankings several times this year. She won the India Grand Prix Gold and her maiden India Open Super Series and also finished runner-up at the prestigious All England Open.
With her current form, there cannot be a better time for Saina to take the medal which has eluded her since 2009.
Sindhu, on the other hand, is coming off a long injury lay-off. She suffered a stress facture in January which kept her out of the circuit for four months. Her return to the circuit has also been anything but impressive.
Seeded 11th, Sindhu has also been handed a first round bye and is likely to ease into the third round -- but there, reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China will most probably be waiting for her.
However, it must not be forgotten that Sindhu has been a constant thorn in the flesh for the Chinese, beating one after the other regularly since 2012 -- something that led her to become the only Indian to win two medals at the Worlds, both bronzes, in 2013 and 2014.
If the 20-year-old gets past Xuerui, she is unlikely to stop before grabbing a hat-trick of medals at the event.
In the only other singles category, World No.3 Kidambi Srikanth will lead the Indian charge. The third seed will start his campaign against Australian Michael Fariman in the opener. Srikanth's performances have been impressive in the last two years, and a medal here will place him in the top echelons of international badminton.
Reigning Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap has been seeded 10th and has a relatively easy opener against Dutch Erik Meijs, but the going will get tougher for him as the tournament progresses. The 28-year-old will need to bring out his A-game to have any chance of pocketing a medal this time around.
Apart from Srikanth and Kashyap, 11th seed H.S. Prannoy will also take part in men's singles and start against Brazilian Alex Yuwan Tjong.
In doubles, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have reignited their chances of clinching yet another medal after their performances in North America. The two reached the US Open women's doubles final following which they clinched the title at the Canada Open.
Also, a good performance here will boost their chances enormously of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 13th seeds had ended a 28-year-old wait for India when they brought home a bronze medal from the 2011 Worlds -- They will aim at repeating that.
Jwala and Ashwini will also be given company by Pradnya Gadre-N. Sikki Reddy and Mohita Sahdev-Dhanya Nair in the women's doubles.
The talented pairs of Akshay Dewalkar-Pranaav Chopra and Manu Attri-B. Sumeeth Reddy will take part in men's doubles while Tarun Kona-Sikki and Aparna Balan/Arun Vishnu will pair up for the mixed doubles.