Tokyo, Oct 31 (IANS) Nearly 14 months after winning India’s first ever Paralympic gold in Para badminton, para shuttlers Pramod Bhagat and Krishna Nagar will return to the Yoyogi stadium courts as they lead a strong 38-member team at the BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022 starting on Tuesday.
Bhagat, the five-time world champion, will be the title favourite in men’s singles ‘Standing Lower SL3’ while Nagar, seeded third in men’s singles ‘Standing Short Stature (SH6)’, will aim to repeat his success at the stadium where he has won two gold so far.
The Paralympic stars are joined by world medallists and Tokyo 2020 stars including defending champion Manasi Joshi (WS SL3), Tokyo 2020 Paralympic medallists Suhas Yathiraj (MS SL4) and Manoj Sarkar (MS SL3) in the contingent that arrived here on Sunday.
With 20 shuttlers to debut at the World Championships, India will field a balanced team this time with both experienced and young shuttlers ready to shine on the big stage.
National head coach Gaurav Khanna is hopeful of more medals than Basel 2019 after months of training and is expecting at least 15 medals including several gold.
“For me the most important thing is being in the right frame of mind going into the championships and I have been working towards it. The idea is to defend those two titles successfully. I want to give my 200 per cent in each game,” said Bhagat, who has trained for three months at the Prakash Padukone Academy in Bengaluru.
Bhagat will have the company of Nitesh Kumar and Manoj Sarkar (seeded second and third) in men’s singles SL3 with two medals expected in the category. Bhagat and Sarkar will also be defending their men’s doubles SL 3 title in Tokyo.
“I just want to give my best efforts here,” said Manoj Sarkar.
India will have a strong participation in women’s singles SL3 event with reigning champion Manasi Joshi (top seeded) leading the charge followed by silver medallist Parul Parmar (second seed) and Mandeep Kaur (third seed), debutant at the Worlds after a series of medal-winning shows in the year.
“I’m excited to be here in Tokyo and defend my title here. This is the first Worlds event happening after the announcement of the SL3 event at Paralympics. Hoping to put my best foot forward,” said Joshi, who will participate in three events — singles and doubles along with partners Shanthiya Viswanathan and Ruthick Ragupathi (both seeded).
In SL4, India will bank on Yathiraj and Kadam to challenge the likes of Paralympic and Worlds champion Lucas Mazur and Indonesian Fredy Setiawan.
For Nagar, the World Championships will be even more special as he will return to action after five months. The Worlds bronze medallist is hoping to continue his good run in the venue and aiming for the gold.
“Happy to return to the venue where I have achieved success before. I hope I can win here again. I have put in a lot of hard work in the last few months with focus on fine-tuning my game and sharpening my strokes,” said the Jaipur lad.
The emerging names among the young lot are Manisha Ramadass (women’s singles SU5), Nithya Sre Sumathy Sivan (women’s singles SH6), Hardik Makkar (men’s singles SU5) among others.
With a brilliant year highlighted with several gold to their credit, India will hope Ramadass and Nithya Sre, Asian Youth Para Games champion, to produce a strong show in their first Worlds. “I am very very excited. It is like a dream to compete at the Worlds. I will try to give my best,” said the 17-year-old Ramadass.
The team also looks strong in doubles and mixed doubles events with new pairings in SH6 — Nagar and Nithya Sre hoping to produce a good show. The wheelchair pair of Prem Kumar Ale and Abu Hubaida is seeded second in the event and aims for a medal this time.
A total of 298 players will vie for honours in 22 events this week with the group matches at the BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022 beginning on Tuesday. The finals will be played on November 6.