An in-form Daiki Kajiwara will lead the line for host nation Japan at the HULIC DAIHATSU BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022 at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo on Tuesday, the venue where he famously won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics last year.
World No.1 Kajiwara remains the overwhelming favourite for the men’s singles WH2 category after taking over the previously unassailable Kim Jungjun of South Korea thanks to a run of seven singles titles this year, a gold in each competition he played in. Kim, who won the last edition of the event in Basel in 2019, will try to regain the aura of his earlier days by stopping Kajiwara on his home turf.
Other home stars on view include Sarina Satomi (WH1), Yuma Yamazaki (WH2), Haruka Fujino (SL4) and Kaeda Kameyama (SU5).
The tournament also marks the return of Para badminton to Tokyo for the first time since the Paralympic Games, as 298 players take part across 22 event categories over the next six days. Japan Para badminton coach Zhang Ling feels the return of fans at the venue will make it even more “exciting”.
“Firstly, everybody wants to win because they’ve worked very hard,” Ling said. “People will be able to come and watch the matches this time, especially after the Paralympics where there were no people in the stands.
Ling did not particularly choose any of her players as the one to watch out for. “I’m excited about any and every player, because it is showtime for them.”
The 38-member Indian contingent is among the highlights of the competition, fielding a team with a mix of youth and experience. Defending champions in the men’s and women’s singles SL3 categories from three years ago, Pramod Bhagat and Manasi Joshi remain favourites, but other names have emerged since.
Manisha Ramadass, for instance, has shot up to No.1 in women’s singles SU5, having won five of six tournaments this year, while Nithya Sre Sumathy Sivan made all seven finals, winning five, and has risen to world No.2 in the women’s singles SH6. Another Indian, Mandeep Kaur (SL3), ranked 18 last year, is now No.3 after winning three of seven finals.
Sivan is confident of a strong performance from her team, given the time they have had to hone their skills over the last several months.
“We have been preparing for the last 10 months for the worlds,” Sivan said. “Once I knew I had qualified for the worlds, which itself was a big achievement, the preparation was smooth and (coach) Gaurav (Khanna) planned our sessions very well.
“Not just me, but everyone in this group is confident of taking back many more medals for India.”
With Paris 2024 coming up, the performances of the French, particularly Paralympic champion Lucas Mazur, Faustine Noel, Meril Loquette and Charles Noakes will be closely followed. Mazur has had no let-up in form this year, with three titles.
“Really exciting to be here, and very happy to see this big arena, the Yoyogi Stadium,” Mazur said.
“It is so special for me because I have been winning very important titles, and also became the Paralympic champion in Japan. I am looking forward and hope to win a gold medal.”
England are expected to be dominant in SH6; this year saw the return of Rachel Choong after 2019. Choong was runner-up at four events, and her potential clashes with No.1 Giuliana Poveda Flores and Nithya Sre will be interesting.
“Really excited. We have had three years away from the world championships now and this was supposed to happen last year,” Choong said.
“Great to be in the arena that was produced for the Paralympics, and I am very excited because it feels fantastic. I’m very lucky to be here.”
Unfortunately for England, Daniel Bethell, favourite in men’s SL3 with four titles this year, had to withdraw due to injury. Bethell had beaten familiar rival Pramod Bhagat in four finals this year.
Dual Paralympic gold medallist, Indonesia’s Leani Ratri Oktila, having given birth in July, will be seen only in doubles with Hary Susanto and Khalimatus Sadiyah.