India are one of 4 countries (China, Denmark & Japan are the others) with the possible maximum 4 of players in the draw for the men's title in Nanjing. India had a fabulous year in men's badminton last year. At point we had 13 men in the top 100. Out of the World Championships, Asia Championships and 13 Super Series titles, India won 5 titles. Four of them by Srikanth Kidambi and the fifth was the 1st ever All-India Super Series final contested by Srikanth & Sai Praneeth with the latter winning his 1st Super Series title in Singapore.

The BWF has changed the season format this year. Instead of Super Series, Super Series Premier, there are Super 300, Super 500, Super 750 and Super 1000. It has been an extremely disappointing season thus far. The boys are going through a proper sophomore slump. Our two biggest hopes, Srikanth & Prannoy, have serious fitness and/or confidence issues. Sai Praneeth has made just 1 semifinal since winning the Thailand open last year. Sameer Verma is the only player with a title this year. A title in the Swiss Open Super 300 with wins over the hottest player of the year: Kento Momota and Jan Ø. Jørgensen.

Players (Seed):

Srikanth Kidambi (5)
H. S. Prannoy (11)
B. Sai Praneeth
Sameer Verma

Potential Draw:

Srikanth Kidambi (5):

R64: Nguyen 
R32: Penty/Abián
R16: Jonathan Christie (13)
QF: Anthony Ginting (12)
SF: Son Wan-ho (4)/Kento Momota (6)
F: Viktor Axelsen (1)/H. S. Prannoy (11)/Sameer Verma

H. S. Prannoy (11):

R64: Manota
R32: Wong W K
R16: Chou T-c (7)
QF: Shi YQ (3)/Lin Dan (9)
SF: Viktor Axelsen (1)
F: Son Wan-ho (4)/Srikanth Kidambi (5)/Kento Momota (6)

Sameer Verma:

R64: Corvée
R32: Lin Dan (9)
R16: Shi YQ (3)
QF: Chou T-c (7)/H. S. Prannoy (11)
SF: Viktor Axelsen (1)
F: Son Wan-ho (4)/Srikanth Kidambi (5)/Kento Momota (6)

B. Sai Praneeth:

R64: Son Wan-ho (4)
R32: K Sakai
R16: T Sugiarto (15)
QF: Kento Momota (6)
SF: Srikanth Kidambi (5)
F: Viktor Axelsen (1)/H. S. Prannoy (11)/Sameer Verma

Sai Praneeth & Sameer are unseeded and unsurprisingly they have a tough draw. Sai Praneeth has been on a complete downward spiral since winning the Singapore Open last year in a historic first over Srikanth Kidambi. He starts against the very defensive Son Wan-ho. He has never beaten the Korean but will draw confidence from the fact that he won his 1st game in 4 tries earlier this year in Birmingham. He has the issue of starting well and fading away as he gets into rallies. Even if he gets past Son Wan-ho, it's unlikely that he'll beat the player of the year so far: Wild Thing Kento Momota.

Sameer is the only Indian of any gender or discipline to have won a title this year: Swiss Open. He should very likely beat Lucas Corvée in his opening round. Next up is the badminton GOAT Lin Dan. Lin Dan injured himself in USA and he is 1-2 since then. Sameer will not get a better opportunity to join Srikanth & Prannoy in the select club of Indian shuttlers who have scored a win over the GOAT. If he gets past that giant hurdle, he faces the reigning All-England champ, Shi Yuqi. An All-India quarterfinal meeting with Prannoy seems unlikely given his tough quarter.

Prannoy begins his campaign against Indo-Kiwi Abhinav Manota which is followed by Hong Kong's Wong Wing Ki. The Delhi-born Mallu shouldn't have much trouble dispatching the duo. The round of 16 is where the heat picks up: Chou Tien Chen. Prannoy trails the head to head 1-3 but defeated the Taiwanese no 1 in England earlier this year. The last eight will bring Lin Dan or likelier Shi Yuqi. Prannoy leads the H2H with Super Dan but has lost the last 3 meetings to the young Chinese upstart.

Defending champion Viktor Axelsen will be his semifinal opponent if all goes to plan. Prannoy has lost all 4 meetings with the Big Dane but hasn't faced him for nearly 2 years. The draw is difficult but Prannoy has the talent to create history by becoming the 1st Indian male to reach the medal round at the World Championships. How many people can lay claim to have beaten Lee Chong Wei & Chen Long back to back?

Last but not least is Srikanth Kidambi. BWF's restructuring of its premier tournaments and 2018 being both a Commonwealth Games & Asiad year meant that Srikanth Kidambi became World No 1 for one week due to scheduling quirks. Clearly, it was a deserving reward. After all, he won a tour leading 4 Super Series title last year. A feat only 4 other players have achieved. Yet it felt hollow because Srikanth's form this year has been very iffy. He scored his 1st ever win over his nemesis: Lee Chong Wei at Gold Coast in the the team event but went on lose, from a game up, in the individual event to the Malaysian legend.

He has only one semifinal appearance in 2018. A match in which he was thoroughly outplayed by the Wild Thing Kento Momota. Their next meeting was better, Srikanth lost from a game up in 60 minutes. With Lee Chong Wei's withdrawal due to respiratory issues, Srikanth's draw is wide open till the semifinals. Jonatan Christie (H2H 2-2) and Anthony Ginting (H2H 2-1) are solid players but Srikanth should defeat both even if he's playing at 80-85% of his abilities. Even though Son Wan-ho is the higher seed, Kento Momota will be the likeliest semifinal opponent if Srikanth gets there.

The Nipponese shuttler has won the last 4 meetings between the two and will surely have the upper hand given their respective current forms. But Srikanth is a resilient player. He is 5-2 in his last 5 semifinals and 4-1 in his last 5 finals. Admittedly, many of them came last year but as they say form is temporary, class is permanent. At this point in time, even a semifinal appearance will be historic but given Srikanth's talent and the easy draw, it will be a gigantic disappointment if he doesn't win a medal.

It's make or break time for the Indian men. Let's hope the boys begin their campaign to conquer the world in Nanjing!





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