| Abhin faces Taufik in the first round
New Delhi: Indian shuttlers have their task cut-out at the world badminton championships starting in Birmingham Monday, as they strive to prove their mettle against the worldís best and seal a berth for next yearís Athens Olympics.
In the absence of 2001 All England champion Pullela Gopichand, who did not qualify for the tournament under the new eligibility format, national champion Abhin Shyam Gupta and south-paw Nikhil Kanetkar would try to make a mark in the gameís flagship event.
But the duo has been a bit unlucky as a change in the initial draw, due to an embarrassing software error, saw them pitted against tough opponents in the very first round.
While Gupta faces third seed and last editionís bronze medallist Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, Kanetkar will take on 1997 world champion Peter Rasmussen of Denmark in the openers.
In the womenís section, national champion Aparna Popat runs into world No. 25 from Hong Kong, Wan Ting Ling, in the opening round. In the two times they met before, Aparna has won once and lost on the other occasion.
But chief coach Vimal Kumar is realistic about his teamís prospects and confident of a good showing.
ďIf the menís players enter the quarter finals and the womenís players make the last 16, I think it can be considered a good achievement,Ē Vimal Kumar said after a two-week camp in Bangalore.
The championship also provides the players a chance to gather crucial ranking points in their Athens Olympics qualification campaign, which ends on April 30, 2004.
In the menís doubles, Jaseel P. Ismail and Jaison Xavier will sqaure up against the ninth seeded pair of Tadashi Ohtsuka and Keita Masuda of Japan while V. Diju and Sanave Thomas will take on Sudket Prapakomal and Patapol Ngernsrisuk of Thailand. In the womenís doubles, Shruti Kurian and Jwala Gutta will play Johanna Persson and Elin Bergblom of Sweden.
Asians set to dominate
Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians look set to dominate the tournament as they did the last time in Seville in 2001 when Asian players swept all five disciplines ó menís and womenís singles, menís, womenís and mixed doubles.
But former world No. 1 Peter Gade of Denmark and his ex-girlfriend Camilla Martin could upset the Asians.
Martin is helped by three leading Chinese players all landing in the other half ódefending champion Gong Ruina, runner-up last time Zhou Mi, Zhang Ning and Xie Xinfang, the All-England champion.
Another Chinese player, Chen Hong, is top seed in menís singles which includes a fortunate Sony Kuncoro, Indonesiaís Asian champion, and Malaysian Muhammad Roslin Hashim. (Agencies)