Aiming to create history by becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to finish on the top podium at the World Wrestling Championships, India’s ace woman grappler Vinesh Phogat faces a path littered with some of the biggest names from the wrestling world as the women’s freestyle events get underway in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan on Tuesday. The Asian Games gold medallist – Vinesh need to be at her very best if she wants to finish on the podium of the elite competition. Last year, Vinesh pulled out of the tournament due to an elbow injury.

The 25-year-old switched to 53kg from 50kg and despite some initial struggles, she has found her groove, as evidenced by her three gold medals at the Yasar Dagu, Poland Open and Spain Open. A bronze at the Asian Championships along with a couple of silver medals at the Dan Kolov and Medved International tournaments gave enough testimony to the fact that the star wrestler was beginning to find her comfort level even in her new weight category.

For Vinesh to show that confidence and conviction, and earn a medal for India, she has to overcome some familiar opponents on Tuesday. In the qualifying rounds, the seventh seed faces Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sofia Mattson and a win over her will fetch her a chance to compete against the two-time world champion Mayu Mukaida of Japan.

If Vinesh can manage to overcome that hurdle, last year’s World Championships runner-up and top seed Sarah Hildebrandt will await in the quarterfinals. While Vinesh has got the better of both Mattson and Hildebrandt this season, Mukaida stopped her at the continental event in April.

In 50kg, all Indian hopes will rest on the shoulders of the second seed Seema Bisla, who won gold at the Yasar Dogu 2019 Ranking Series tournament in July. The higher seeding doesn’t exempt her from facing a quality opponent as early as the opening round and she could possibly begin her campaign against three-time Olympic medallist Mariya Stadnik of Azerbaijan.

Lalita Sehrawat, the former Commonwealth Games silver medallist and Asian Championships bronze medallist, will be representing India in 55kg. As the 12th seed, she kicks off her challenge against Mongolia’s Bat Ochir, the 13th seed. A win will set up a possible quarter-final showdown with America’s third seed Jacarra Winchester.

In 72kg, sixth-seeded Komal Bhagwan Gole will be in contention for a berth in the quarter-finals when she faces off against Turkey’s accomplished Beste Altug.