Ever since the retirement of Indonesia’s Susi Susanti and Camila Martin of Denmark, the only interest in women’s singles at a major event was to find which Chinese player would be crowned champion.
But the Chinese armada, which has won all but four world titles since 1977, does not look invincible anymore. And to the hosts’ delight, it is their very own Saina Nehwal who is favourite to break the Chinese stranglehold on the World Badminton Championships when the latest edition gets underway here under tight security cover.
The local administration has employed a sizeable police force to guard the venue after many players raised security concerns following a media report, and the badminton complex looked more like a fortress than a sporting arena.
However, on the badminton front, there was lot more buzz on the court with the top stars going through their paces before the start of the championship.
Saina, who has been on a high after winning the Indonesia Super Series, trained for over an hour early in the morning as she aims to hit peak fitness after a bout of chicken pox laid her low 10 days before the event.
Apart from Saina, Tine Rasmussen of Denmark and Malaysia's Mew Choo Wong are the only two players who have beaten the Chinese to win a Super Series title in the last two years.
But given their suspect fitness in the run up to this event, Saina, despite her recent illness, looks like the only real challenger to the Chinese supremacy. Saina also has a relatively favourable draw, which should allow her to reach the quarterfinal stage with relative ease. Her opponent in the last eight will, in all probability, be second seed Wang Lin of China.
However, the world number 6 was not willing to think that far. "I am just out of an illness and need to take one match at a time," said the 20-year-old, who has a bye in the first round.
Although Saina is not just looking at the Chinese contingent, but Chinese coach Li Yongbo feels Saina, along with top seed Zhou Mi of Hong Kong, is a threat for her charges.
Lin, Lee to renew rivalry
In the men's singles, top seed Lee Chong Wei will be looking to reverse the order by beating his Olympic nemesis Lin Dan of China. The Malaysian opens his campaign against German Dieter Domke, while the defending champion is up against Israel's Misha Zilberman.
Yongbo admitted that the two were the best players on the circuit and predicted a repeat of the Olympic final. “If Lin is not his own self, he might even lose.”
Chetan, Aditi begin today
While most of the Indian singles players start their campaign on Tuesday, world number 14 Chetan Anand will be up against Ji Hoon Hong of Korea in the last match on Monday. Aditi Mutatkar will also face Juliane Schenk of Germany in the women's singles.