Curiously enough, she has been drawn in the same half of the draw which features Algerian top seed, Roumaysa Boualam – the reigning African and Mediterranean champion. This means if Nikhat, who will be competing in her newly-acquired Olympic weight class of 50kg at the Worlds, manages to get past Azerbaijan’s Anakhanim Ismayilova in her opening round (Round of 64) on Thursday, she will run into Boualam in the second round – a scenario which ideally should have occurred in the quarters or semis stage.
Nikhat’s will be the first match of the championships, which is scheduled in the afternoon session, followed by other Indian bouts. While Nikhat is expected to sail past both her opponents ahead of the pre-quarters, the road to defending her crown will become tougher as the tournament progresses. Waiting in the wings will be Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Colombia and Tokyo Olympics bronze winner Japan’s Tsukimi Namiki, who the Indian might face in the semis or the final.
India also suffered a major injury blow ahead of the championships when one of the medal hopes, debutante Sanamcha Chanu (70kg), was ruled out of the event after suffering a concussion. In her place, Shruti Yadav – who was in the reserves – will spearhead the country’s campaign in the welterweight division. She will meet China’s Pan Zhou in the opening round.
According to sources, Chanu suffered an injury during the multi-nation training camp at the Indira Gandhi indoor stadium here, which was held between March 3 and 12. Chanu suffered concussion while sparring with a foreign female boxer on March 9 and was subsequently taken for scans by the Indian coaching staff. On the advice of the medical team, she was withdrawn from the Worlds and was replaced with Shruti ahead of the draw ceremony on Wednesday.
Despite Nikhat being unseeded and the injury setback suffered by the hosts, the country’s 12-member strong contingent will look to bag as many medals as possible on home turf to justify IBA president Umar Kremlev‘s ambitious announcement that India has become the women’s boxing capital of the world. A total of four Indians will be in action on the opening day of a nearly two-week long meet – Nikhat (50kg), Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg), Preeti (54kg) and Nupur Sheoran (+81kg).
Indians have been handed a relatively mixed draw. Sakshi will start her campaign against Colombia’s Jose Maria Martinez, while Preeti will take on Hungary’s Hanna Lakotar in her opening bout. Nupur, on the other hand, will be up against Guyana’s Abiola Jackman.
Tokyo Games bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain, who like Nikhat will be battling out in anew Olympic weight category of 75kg, in which she had won an Asian Championships medal after moving up from the 69kg welterweight class. She has received a bye in the opening round and will face Mexico’s Vanessa Ortiz in Round of 16.