North Eastern Warriors: Something NEW this year!

North Eastern Warriors, making its debut, has two good men’s singles players, Tzu Wei Wang and Ajay Jayaram, in the squad. Michelle Li is the star among the women.

Tzu Wei Wang... can he become the new hero of the Northeast?   -  AFP

Unlike many top Indians who train at the famed Gopi Chand Academy, Ajay Jayaram, the 30-year-old Mumbaikar of North Eastern Warriors, is coached by India-born Britisher Tom John.

A spate of injuries saw him slip from a career-high of World No. 13 early this year to his current ranking of 38. Among his best results are the win over Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the pre-quarterfinal of the 2017 Malaysian Open. Jayaram lost in the next round, but he is a gritty customer.

The other lead singles player for NEW is the 22-year-old Tzu Wei Wang of Chinese-Taipei. He was runner-up in three Grand Prix events in 2017 (New Zealand, Chinese-Taipei and German Open). Interestingly, this World No. 10 beat Jayaram in the 2016 Dutch Open final. The team paid Rs. 52 lakh for Tzu.

In women’s singles, Michelle Li of Canada, the first ever Canadian to win a Commonwealth Games gold, is the prominent player for NEW. This 26-year-old shuttler was runner-up in the 2017 Dutch and the US Opens. She has also won 12 BWF International Challenge Series singles and eight doubles titles.

NEW will also be pinning a lot of hope in women’s singles on the 20-year-old G. Ruthvika Shivani, fresh from her recent Tata Open international title.

This former SAF Games gold medallist (beating P. V. Sindhu) was also a semifinalist in the Nagpur Nationals.

Ruthvika is a tall player with wonderfully deceptive strokes, but is injury-prone.

In men’s doubles, the towering duo of Shin Baek Cheol (6’1”) and Kim Gi Jung (6’) should be an intimidating sight for any opposition. The 28-year-old Cheol was a former world champion in men’s doubles and partnering the 27-year-old Kim (winner of two Worlds bronze) is capable of special performances.

It will be interesting to see how the Indian doubles specialist Chirag Shetty responds to the team’s call if given the chance.

The women’s doubles combine of Prajakta Sawant and Sanyogita Ghorpade have a huge challenge ahead of them. They finished runner-up in the Egypt and the Mauritius International Challenge Series in 2017.

Previous performances: Making debut in the PBL.