HYDERABAD, India — China’s Xie Xingfang is aiming for a record third women’s singles title at the world badminton championships starting on Monday but will share the limelight with India’s Saina Nehwal.
Compatriots Li Lingwie, Han Aiping and Ye Zhaoying are other shuttlers to have won two titles, but Xie, the Beijing Olympics runner-up, has an opportunity to add to her victories in 2005 and 2006.
Other strong contenders are world number one Zhou Mi of Hong Kong, China’s Wang Lin, Wang Yihan and Lu Lan, Denmark’s Tine Rasmussen and Pi Hongyan of France.
The 19-year-old Nehwal’s priority is to live up to her fans’ expectations with a strong performance, especially after becoming the first Indian to win a Super Series title in Jakarta in June.
"No doubt, I have been doing really well and peaking at the right time, but honestly, I don’t want to entertain any predictions on the world championships. Just let me enjoy even while giving… my best," said Nehwal.
No Indian shuttler has caught the nation’s attention in recent years as much as world number six Nehwal, who has many firsts to her credit.
She is the first Indian to bag the world junior title in 2008, the first to reach the Olympic quarter-finals at Beijing and the first to claim a Super Series title.
She has been spoken of in the same breath as badminton greats Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand, India’s only All-England winners, after she won the Indonesian Open for a Super Series title.
Expectations are high, especially after her victories over the formidable Chinese player Lu Lan in the semi-final and world number three Wang Lin in the final in Jakarta.
Nehwal has resumed training after recovering from a bout of chicken pox, but says she is as determined as ever to do well.
"It (the illness) is definitely a sad part of my preparations, but then it is not in my hands" she said ahead of the tournament.
"I don’t think this would have any psychological impact on how I would face the challenges in the world event. All I promise my fans is that I will play a good game so that they can enjoy it."
Sixth-seeded Nehwal has a first-round bye and opens her campaign against the winner of the match between Poland’s Olga Konon and Russian Alexandra Prokopenko.
Nehwal could face 10th-seeded Bulgarian Petya Nedelcheva in the third round and, if she lives up to her ranking, she would run into Wang Lin in the quarter-finals.
"It (the draw) is not as easy as people are making it out to be. It is a world championships and one has to be at one’s best to win. You can’t take anyone for granted."
Other big names in Nehwal’s half of the draw are third-seeded Rasmussen and seventh-seeded Lu Lan.
World number eight Pi Hongyan, who won the Indian Open Gold Grand Prix here in April, said she was keen to win a medal at the world event.
"I have never won a medal at the world championships," she said.
"I was a quarter-finalist thrice earlier. So I am very keen to get one medal here and my preparation was really good."