All England Championships 2020: Tough draws for PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal amidst reduced participation in tournament with coronavirus threat

Reigning world champion PV Sindhu will lead a substantially truncated Indian squad to the prestigious All England Badminton Championships that get under way at the Arena Birmingham on Wednesday.

Shirish Nadkarni March 11, 2020 08:46:20 IST
All England Championships 2020: Tough draws for PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal amidst reduced participation in tournament with coronavirus threat
  • Reigning world champion PV Sindhu will lead a substantially truncated Indian squad to the prestigious All England Badminton Championships that get under way at the Arena Birmingham on Wednesday.

  • Sindhu, who has failed to win a single title since her World Championship win in Basel last August, and has never gone beyond the semi-final stage at the All England.

  • She has been given the sixth seeding, and opens her campaign against the redoubtable American-Chinese, Beiwen Zhang, ranked 14th on the BWF ladder.

Reigning world champion PV Sindhu will lead a substantially truncated Indian squad to the prestigious All England Badminton Championships that get under way at the Arena Birmingham on Wednesday.

Seven top Indian players who featured in the five 32-berth draws by virtue of their current Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings have chosen to give the 110th edition of the elite, tradition-drenched World Tour Super 1000 competition a miss, thanks to the coronavirus (Covid-19) scare.

All England Championships 2020 Tough draws for PV Sindhu Saina Nehwal amidst reduced participation in tournament with <span class=coronavirus threat" width="380" height="285" />

File image of PV Sindhu. PTI

Players of the calibre of HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma and Saurabh Verma, and the country's two top doubles pairs of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty (ranked tenth in the world) and Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy have decided to drop out of the US$1.1 million prize money tournament. Rankireddy and Shetty, currently ranked tenth in the world, had missed last year's event as well, with the former having been laid low by a shoulder injury.

The withdrawals, announced late last week by the Badminton Association of India (BAI), have left Sindhu with the task of shouldering the Indian pennant in the company of Kidambi Srikanth, Sai Praneeth, Lakshya Sen, Parupalli Kashyap, Pranaav Jerry Chopra, N Sikki Reddy, Saina Nehwal and Ashwini Ponnappa.

For the two Indian women who have been carrying the country's hopes in the stellar singles event for the past few years, the draw has been somewhat cruel. Sindhu, who has failed to win a single title since her World Championship win in Basel last August, and has never gone beyond the semi-final stage at the All England, has been given the sixth seeding, and opens her campaign against the redoubtable American-Chinese, Beiwen Zhang, ranked 14th on the BWF ladder.

The lissome 24-year-old Indian carries a wafer-thin 5-4 head-to-head advantage against Zhang, whom she had beaten comprehensively by a 21-14, 21-6 scoreline in Basel on her way to the world title, but to whom she lost narrowly at the Korean Open by a 21-7, 22-24, 15-21 margin, after holding a match-point in the second game of their extended battle, barely a month after the 2019 World Championships.

Should Sindhu take Zhang in her stride, she also faces a tricky second round against the winner of the first-round duel between Thailand's Nitchaon Jindapol and South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun. The Indian ace holds a 5-2 winning record against the Thai girl, but lost to the 21st ranked Jindapol on the last occasion that they met. Sindhu has a shaky 8-8 career record against the 27-year-old 12th ranked Korean, having lost to Sung on the three most recent occasions that they have clashed in the past two years.

Crossing the second hurdle will put the reigning world champion up for a quarter-final meeting with the fourth-seeded Japanese, Nozomi Okuhara, whom she had thrashed at 21-7, 21-7 in the Basel World Championship final, to gain sweet revenge for her narrow three-game loss at the hands of the diminutive Japanese in the epic 2017 World Championship final. All these girls are packed in the top half of the draw, dominated by world No 1 and defending champion, Chen Yufei of China; and one of them is slated to clash with the title-holder in the semi-final.

As for Saina, whose recent lack of good results has resulted in a slide to a world ranking of No 20, she has the toughest of assignments in her lung-opener, against the pocket dynamo from Japan, Akane Yamaguchi, seeded third this time. Both girls have held the world No 1 position in the past, but age is very much in favour of the 22-year-old Japanese, who should have little trouble dealing with the Indian, considering the fact that Saina will turn 30 two days after the conclusion of the All England.

While the two Indian women singles exponents face a major struggle in their event, the draw has been relatively kind to at least two of the four Indian men (from the original seven) left in the men's singles draw.

Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth, ranked 10th in the world, plays China's Zhao Jun Peng, whom he has met just once in the past, losing in straight sets in the 2016 Macau Open. A win over the 36th ranked Zhao will take Praneeth into a projected second-round meeting with Chinese seventh seed Shi Yuqi, who has reached the All England final twice, winning the title in 2018.

Young Lakshya Sen, who has fought his way into the top 30 in the world, faces the 23-year-old Hong Kong player, Lee Cheuk Yiu, in the first round. Sen, as a 16-year-old, had lost to Lee at the 2018 Australian Open at 19-21 in the third game of a long-drawn battle, in the only match they have played, but has improved enormously since then, and has a fine chance of moving into a second-round clash with the winner of the opening-round duel between Thailand's Sitthikom Thammasin and the second-seeded Dane and 2017 world champion, Viktor Axelsen.

Sadly, India's best men's player until a year ago, Srikanth, has slipped to the 14th rank in the world and has a tough opener against the formidable two-time former world champion and 2016 Olympic gold medallist, Chen Long of China, seeded third this time. The 27-year-old Guntur lad, who lost at the quarter-final stage to eventual champion Momota at last year's championships, has a 2-6 record against the lanky Chinese star, although the most recent meeting between the two ended in a 21-13, 0-0 (retired) result in favour of the Indian at the Hong Kong Open last November.

The fourth Indian in the men's singles draw, Parupalli Kashyap, has to run the Indonesian gauntlet if he hopes to progress in the competition. The 33 year old first takes on Shesar Hiren Rhustavito, whom he has never bumped into in the past; and, if he makes it to the second round, would most likely have to deal with the No 4 seed, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, arguably the fastest singles player on the planet.

In the continued absence of Japan's reigning world champion Kento Momota, who is still to recover from the physical and emotional scars of a road accident in Kuala Lumpur at the end of the Malaysian Masters, the world No 2, Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei, has been given pride of place at Birmingham. His first opponent would be Mark Caljouw, a player promoted from the reserves to take the place of the withdrawn Sameer Verma.

With the withdrawal of both the main men's doubles combination, India does not have any interest in the event, per se. But the sole women's doubles team of Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy has a chance to progress at least to the second round, for they take on the none-too-formidable Australian pair of Gronya Somerville and Setyana Mapasa, before they possibly cross swords with the former World no 1 duo of Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, seeded seventh this time.

Things do not look even half as rosy for the mixed doubles pairing of Chopra and Sikki Reddy, as they have the onerous task of taking on top seeds and defending champions, Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong in their very first outing. It would take nothing short of a miracle for the unconsidered Indians to beat the long-reigning world No 1 pair, who are looking to make their third successive All England final.

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