When the BWF World Championships 2022, the most prestigious badminton tournament on the calendar, gets underway in Tokyo on August 22, World no. 1 Viktor Axelsen will be the favourite for the men's singles title.
Axelsen – the top seed and reigning Olympic Champion – is on a 31-match winning streak this season and has won five titles, including the All England Open. The last time he lost a match was to Lakshya Sen in the German Open semifinal in March.
The World Championships, however, will not be a cakewalk for the Dane.
As defending champion Loh Kean Yew, Anders Antonsen, Lee Zii Jia, and recently crowned Commonwealth Games champion Lakshya are in good form, it promises to be an open affair.
In the previous edition of the Championships, Axelsen – who last won the title in 2017 – made a first-round exit, losing to Loh – missing the chance to achieve Olympic and Worlds double.
This season, however, he looks fully focused to recapture the Worlds’ gold, giving a walkover midway through the tournaments twice, to keep his body fit for the most coveted individual prize of the season.
He might face some resistance in the second round from an in-form Jason Teh, fresh from a fourth-place finish in the CWG, but the road to the final otherwise looks unlikely to be challenging.
The Dane could face World no. 4 Chou Tien Chen – the second highest-ranked shuttler in the top half of the draw – in the semifinals.
B. Sai Praneeth, the 2019 edition bronze medallist, is the only Indian in the top half. But he has been patchy this year, not advancing to a single quarterfinal and has a 0-4 head-to-head record against Tien Chen, his first-round opponent.
An exciting bottom half with Lakshya, Prannoy and Srikanth
The bottom half of the men's singles draw looks promising, with eight seeded shuttlers fighting for a place in the final.
Three Indians - last edition's silver and bronze medallists Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya alongside H.S. Prannoy - will be shouldering India's hopes.
Of the trio, 21-year-old Lakshya is considered India's best bet for the title. Continuing his blazing form this year, he finished as the runner-up in All England and German Open before winning the Thomas Cup team title and CWG gold.
He could face either two-time World Champion Kento Momota or compatriot Prannoy in the third round.
Lakshya, the ninth seed, and Momota have met three times, with the Japanese shuttler holding a 2-1 edge over.
Momota, however, has been struggling with form since he had a car accident in 2019. In the Tokyo Olympics last year, he had lost in the first round to unseeded Hoe Kwang-hee.
World no. 18 Prannoy, one of the architects of India's historic Thomas Cup win in May, could even be too strong for the Japanese.
Prannoy will be hungry to make his presence felt in Tokyo after missing the CWG in Birmingham. Lakshya has a 2-1 head-to-head record over him.
Srikanth, who looked rusty in the Birmingham Games, may find it tough to enter the quarterfinals as fifth seed Lee Zii Jia of Malaysia is his potential opponent in the third round.
Lee is coming well-prepared for the World Championships after sitting out of the recent CWG. This presents a chance for a contest between Lakshya and Lee, who trails the Indian 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
For Lakshya, the potential challenge in the semifinals would be either eighth seed Loh Kean Yew or third seed Anders Antonsen. He has a better head-to-head record (1-0, 4-2 respectively) against both. Earlier this year, Lakshya defeated Antonsen in the All England Open and Loh in the CWG and the India Open, respectively.
The Indian will look to improve on his bronze medal at the Worlds, but Axelsen – against whom his head-to-head is a disappointing 1-6 – stands in his way.
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