The prestigious All England Championships title has eluded Indian shuttlers ever since Pullela Gopichand last held the shiny trophy aloft in 2001. Eighteen years have passed by and Birmingham lies in wait for an Indian to stand on the podium. Saina Nehwal came close to breaking the jinx in 2015 and reached the quarter-finals on two other occasions.
And this year, Nehwal, along with the relentless PV Sindhu, could bring the cup home, according to former national coach Vimal Kumar.
Kumar, who trained Nehwal between 2014 and 2017, feels the former No 1 has shown more desire in the recent tournaments. “Saina plays Kirsty Gilmour in the first round. It’s going to be a tricky game but Saina has a better track record. She has done reasonably well at the Malaysia Masters and Nationals,” Kumar told Firstpost.
Should the Indian win her opening game, World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying awaits the Haryana-born shuttler in the last eight. Kumar, though, did not caution a sign of worry as the Chinese Taipei wizard has had injury problems since last November. “If Saina retrieves well and does not fall for Tai’s deception, she stands a good chance. Tactically, she needs to apply herself better against a versatile player,” he added.
The towering Sindhu, on the other hand, squares off against Sung Ji Hyun of South Korea. Whenever Sindhu has time on her side, the performances speak volumes. The World Tour Finals winner hasn’t competed in the last 3-4 weeks and has devoted that time to heavy training. After consistently reaching the Sunday summits of almost every major tournament, the All England final is what the lanky shuttler is possibly looking at. As the wait for an Indian winner enters the 18th season, Pullela Gopchand insisted Sindhu has everything in her armour to bring home the silverware. "The preparation has been good, and the courts at All England suit Sindhu's style of play so I hope we have a good tournament this time," he said.
Despite being pitted in a slightly competitive half of the draw – with old nemeses Nozomi Okuhara and Chen Yufei — the 24-year-old should find her rhythm in the early exchanges. “Sindhu’s main issue is to overcome the initial rounds. She needs to find the flow at big events. For her, Chen Yufei comes across as the main challenge apart from the in-form Ratchanok Intanon,” Kumar said.
Between the two, Nehwal has managed to get the better of her junior simply because the 28-year-old has shown more aggression at the right time. “Despite Sindhu getting all the attention these days, Saina has got the results in her favour. It’s simple: sheer determination. She wants more than Sindhu. That could be the factor. At the Nationals, Sindhu played very flat and didn't move convincingly. She said she had been undergoing heavy training sessions when I spoke to her in Guwahati. However, they both can beat anyone on their day.”
Kumar believes there’s no dependency on Sindhu ahead of the All England. “No really. It’s both Sindhu and Saina. We’ve pinned hopes on both of them. Except for Carolina Marin, everybody else is playing. There’s not much of a difference in the top rung.”
These two girls have a better prospect than the men’s singles. Apart from Sameer Verma, who won the Swiss Open, Hyderabad Open and the Syed Modi International, none of the men’s singles players stepped up to emulate the success of the 2017 season. The kind of blip no one would have expected looking at how they bludgeoned the top-half just 14 months ago.
“Sameer is straightaway running into Axelsen. That’s tough, to be honest. He wasn’t as impressive as I’d expected him to be at the Nationals. Prannoy still has health issues. Sai Praneeth didn’t impress as well. Only Srikanth’s patience could make the difference,” said the PPBA coach, who believes Srikanth could beat Kento Momota.
Kumar further stated that Sindhu’s game suits the conditions of the Birmingham Arena. The big-tournament occasion, drift and the slow courts, Sindhu is used to the tricks of the game now. Marin’s absence will be felt at the World Tour Super 1000 event, however, it doesn’t make the draw any easier for the rest of the lot. India’s hopes rest on the shoulders of Saina and Sindhu. Kumar even joked about them facing each other in the summit clash. “That should be a great sight for all,” he concluded.
Updated Date: Mar 06, 2019 12:38:46 IST