From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.32 :: Aug. 08, 2009
Taufiq Hidayat and Sony Dwi Kuncoro (below) ... capable of giving the top stars a run for their money.
Indian badminton has come a long way since 1934 when the first National Championships were held. Incidentally, the game’s world governing body, the International Badminton Federation, was also formed in the same year. The game has grown manifold in India since then, both in terms of popularity and status. From a relatively small and unknown sport, badminton in India has become a major sport with a lot more players playing the game, better infrastructure, more governm ent support, vastly improved media coverage, more sponsorship etc. The 17th edition of the World Championships, which gets underway at the magnificent Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad on August 10, will be a watershed in Indian badminton.
It is for the first time that India is hosting this prestigious event in which all the top ranked players of the world will be seen in action. In terms of sheer quality, this will be the biggest badminton event in India though we have conducted many prestigious international tournaments in the past.
Before I proceed further, I would like to give a brief history of the World Championships itself. Many of you might be surprised to know that the first edition of the World Championships was played only in 1977 in Malmo, Sweden, even though the game has been in existence for more than five decades. Until then, the All England Championship was considered as the unofficial World Championship as it happened to be the oldest tournament in the world. Any player winning the All England was considered as the unofficial world champion. Incidentally, the All England Championship will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year in March in Birmingham.
The World Championships were held every three years until 1983 and became a biennial event from 1985. The format changed again in 2005 when the tournament became an annual affair. Since then it has been held every year thereby taking a bit of sheen and glamour away from the event. Nevertheless it remains one of the most prestigious tournaments in the international badminton calendar. Personally, I would like this event to be held once in three or four years like in many other sports mainly to retain its charm and prestige. But personal preferences need not always be right and need not always be heard.
As far as the Hyderabad event goes, one can expect top quality badminton from the stars. The Chinese are expected to dominate the proceedings though one can expect stiff competition from the Indonesians, Koreans, Malaysians and the Danes. For the first time in a long while, the Indians have a chance of getting a medal through Saina Nehwal who has been in tremendous form of late.
Unlike most of the Super Series and Grand Prix events, there are no qualifying rounds in the World Championships. All the five events — the men’s singles, men’s doubles, ladies singles, ladies doubles and mixed doubles — will have a draw of 64. At the moment only two tournaments offer the maximum points for World Rankings — the Olympics and the World Championships. All other tournaments, including the Super Series, offer lesser points and are also not so big in stature.
One interesting aspect about the World Championships which many fans may not be aware of is that there is no prize money offered. The only other event where there is no prize money, but which offers the highest number of points is the Olympics.
Though, normally, grading of tournaments is done based on the prize money on offer, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) has made an exception in the case of these two tournaments which goes to show the importance it attaches to the World Championships and Olympics. No wonder then that all the players want to have a crack at these two titles.
Another point is that the number of entries from a country is restricted in the World Championships whereas there is no such restriction in the Super Series events.
This is bit of a handicap for leading badminton playing nations like China, Indonesia, Malaysia etc., for they can forward only a maximum of four entries per event. Thus these countries will have many more players of good standard who will not be able to play this event. On an average, however, each country will have only two entries in an event except host India, which has the privilege of fielding a wild card in each of the five events.
The toughest competition is likely to be in the men’s singles event where the reigning world champion, Lin Dan of China, and the current World No. 1, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, start as the favourites for the title. The present format is so fluid that it is extremely difficult to predict the winner in any event. Of the lot, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei have been the most consistent though they have also had some bad losses. Peter Gade of Denmark, Taufiq Hidayat and Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia will be the other strong contenders in the fray for the men’s singles title.
It remains to be seen whether the in-form Saina Nehwal of India will be able to live up to the expectations of her fans. She has done exceedingly well in the past 8-12 months and has been quite consistent so far. She narrowly missed out on a medal last year at the Beijing Olympics but made up to some extent by winning the Indonesian Open recently in Jakarta by beating some of the top Chinese players. She also happened to be the first Indian woman player to win a Super Series event.
I personally think her toughest challenge will come not so much from the established Chinese girls but from the young Chinese brigade for they are likely to play fearlessly and without any pressure. It will be a challenging time for the young Saina to perform in front of her home crowd.
From my experience, I have always felt that it is a big advantage to play on home courts and in front of home crowds until you become an established player. Once you make a mark at the highest level, it is not easy to play at home since expectations will be very high and the player will be playing under tremendous pressure. During my playing days, once I broke into the top 10, most of my big victories came while playing abroad.
The paired events are likely to be dominated by the Chinese, Indonesians and Koreans. The Indonesians used to have a stranglehold on the paired events until about 10 years ago but not any more.
From the Indian angle, apart from Saina, if any other player/pair can make it to the quarterfinal I would consider it as a good performance. As mentioned earlier all the top players/pairs will be present in Hyderabad and it will be a real test for our players to see how they fare against the best in the world. One can only hope for improved performances from the Indians on the whole.
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