Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth are all fresh and eager to compete at the All England Open Badminton Championships that begin in Birmingham on Wednesday.
Eighth seed Saina, who overcame a career-ending knee injury, will meet World No 11 and defending champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in the first round. The 2012 London Olympic bronze medallist was a runner-up in 2015 and there may not be a better tournament than All England to showcase that her troublesome days are well and truly over.
Saina, who now has to share the Indian badminton limelight with 2016 Rio Olympic silver medal winner Sindhu, will also out to prove that she still has enough firepower to carry Indian hopes. After the surgery, she has also won Malaysian Masters Grand Prix Gold that indicates that her comeback has been smooth and she will be hungry to continue that. But Saina is aware that the standard of play here will be much more demanding than the Malaysian event and she has to be ready.
Sixth seed Sindhu will begin her campaign at the Barclaycard Arena against Danish Mette Poulsen. At this stage of her career, the All England presents a perfect opportunity for the two-time World Championship bronze medallist to further elevate her profile.
Both world No 5 Sindhu and Saina have done good preparations and are well rested, skipping tournaments leading up this week.
However, the Indian duo face stiff competition from some of the top badminton female athletes who are set to compete in Birmingham. Ahead of the first round of the championships, we take a look at who all could challenge Saina and Sindhu for the ultimate prize.
Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei)
World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying will pose the greatest threat to the Indian duo's dream of winning the All England Championships. Ever since losing to PV Sindhu in the Rio Olympics, she has gone on to win the Hong Kong Open, the Chinese Taipei Open and the Dubai Superseries title, rightly making her the top seed at the Championships. The 22-year-old is in the form of her life and has enjoyed her contests against India opponents. She leads 5-3 in the head-to-head battles against Sindhu and holds an 8-5 advantage in her duels with Saina. The All England is one title missing from her list of honours and the Chinese Taipei player would be keen to add it this time around.
Carolina Marin (Spain)
Carolina Marin needs little introduction. She is the reigning Olympic champion. When the Spaniard is on her game, there are very few players in the world who can stop her. Her run to the gold medal at Rio Olympics was a proof of the same. However, the 23-year-old shuttler has struggled with injuries since the Olympic Games and is yet to win a title since. She came close in the German Open, but an injury forced her to withdraw from the final. Marin got the better of Saina and Sindhu in the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in India recently. The Spaniard has a 5-3 win-loss record against Sindhu, but trails 3-4 in the head-to-head statistics against Saina. The duo met in the final of the 2015 All England Championships, where Marin triumphed over Saina to win her only title in Birmingham. Injury-crippled Marin might not be at her 100 percent, but the second seed is still a formidable opponent for the Indian pair.
Sung Ji Hyun (South Korea)
Sung Ji Hyun, the third seed at the 2017 All England Championships, is another top player Sindhu and Saina need to be wary of. The 25-year-old South Korean shuttler finished runner-up at the Dubai Superseries Finals, while won the Korea Masters, New Zealand Open and the Syed Modi International tournament in 2016. Sung may have the psychological edge over Sindhu having beaten her during the Dubai Superseries Finals. However, she doesn't have a great record against the Indian pair, trailing 6-4 in the head-to-head with Sindhu and 1-6 against Saina. But her recent exploits means she must be treated as a strong challenger.
Sun Yu (China)
Sun Yu is the fourth seed at the prestigious event. The Chinese shuttler may have nothing to show for her efforts in 2016, but she has been fiercely competitive in every single competition she has taken part in. One can say she has been unfortunate enough to not have any titles to her name recently after she finished runner-up in six events in 2016. One of which came against Sindhu at the China Super Series, where she lost in three games to the Indian shuttler. But she leads Sindhu 4-3 in their overall head-to-head statistics. However, Saina has had Sun Yu's measure in the past with a 6-1 lead in their battles in the past. But being seeded above the Indian pair, Sun Yu certainly can't be taken lightly.
Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand)
Ratchanok Intanon has 14 individual titles to her name and four of them came in 2016. She emerged victorious in the Indian Open, Singapore Open, Malaysia Open and Thailand Masters. The Thai shuttler has struggled recently and injuries have hindered her progress. But her pedigree makes her a strong contender for the All England Championship title. She has a good record against Sindhu having beaten her four times in her career while ending on the losing side only once. Against Saina, though, she has found the going tough with the India leading 7-5 in their head to head duels.
Published Date: Mar 08, 2017 01:20 pm | Updated Date: Mar 08, 2017 01:48 pm