BWF China Open 2019: PV Sindhu eyes World Championship redux, Indian contingent looks to turn around dismal season
For India, PV Sindhu remains the best bet for a podium finish as both HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth have withdrawn due to injuries
After Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy pulled out, Parupalli Kashyap, B Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma remain in the fray in the men's singles for India
PV Sindhu, the Indian fifth seed has been handed a tricky draw with her first-round opponent being China's Li Xue Rui
In the men's doubles, all eyes will be on Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty who recently became the first Indian pair to win a BWF Super 500 title
The build-up to next year's Tokyo Olympics toughens up this month with the China Open, which runs from 17 to 22 September, followed by the Korea Open, which will start two days later on 24 September.
Amongst the Indian shuttlers, PV Sindhu turned her erratic season on its head with her title-winning run at the BWF World Badminton Championships held in Basel, Switzerland last month.
However, the Indian contingent at large remains short of confidence and positive results. Injury-related setbacks haven’t allowed most to attain any rhythm in the build-up to next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
HS Prannoy had marked his return to the court — after a gut infection — at the World Championships with an inspiring win against Chinese great Lin Dan in the second round before losing in straight games against top-seeded Japanese Kento Momota.
Just when it had seemed that the Indian was poised to produce a more solid finish in the upcoming tournaments, the World No 26 withdrew from the China and Korea Open after being diagnosed with dengue.
Kidambi Srikanth, too, has withdrawn from both the events due to a knee injury. The World No 10 is yet to break the title duck this year, his season going from bad to worse.
Srikanth’s best finish this year came at the India Open where he had lost in the final to Dane Victor Axelsen. Besides that, the Indian shuttler hasn’t managed to breach the quarter-final hurdle in over five attempts.
In last month's World Championships, Srikanth tamely bowed out in straight games in the pre-quarter-final match against Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen. His poor form is more disconcerting as it threatens his qualification for the Tokyo Olympics.
Srikanth and Prannoy's withdrawal from the China Open leaves three Indians in the men’s singles draw, B Sai Praneeth, Parupalli Kashyap and Sameer Verma.
Incidentally, Prannoy and Srikanth were drawn with Kashyap and Sai Praneeth respectively for their opening round matches.
However, after their withdrawal, the opening round matches for both Kashyap and Sai Praneeth stand corrected.
That could well prove to be a stroke of luck as, after the shake-up in the draw, both players have been drawn against seemingly easier opponents.
Kashyap, ranked 34, will face Frenchman Brice Leverdez who is the World No 37.
On the other hand, World No 15 Sai Praneeth has a relatively easier clash at hand against Suppanyu Avihingsanon of Thailand, who is ranked 37.
However, a tougher challenge awaits both Indian men in their second-round clashes since they’ll go up against seeded players.
Sai Praneeth will likely face China’s third seed Shi Yu Qi in the second round. The Indian has never beaten Yu Qi, having lost after stretching the Chinese to three games on the two previous occasions that they’ve played.
However, the World No 15 will be emboldened by his bronze medal at the World Championships last month to ride out the hustle and ace the winning touch against a more seasoned opponent.
Similarly, Anthony Ginting of Indonesia seeded sixth, is expected to get past the World No 12 Kenta Nishimoto of Japan to set up a second-round clash with India’s Parupalli Kashyap.
As for Sameer Verma, the World No 16 will face Hong Kong’s NG Ka Long Angus, who’s ranked higher than the Indian at No 11, in the first-round match. A tougher clash may await Verma in the second round, against fourth-seeded Jonatan Christie of Indonesia.
Amongst the overseas players in the men’s singles draw, the top half will be spiced up by a first-round clash between a former World No 1 Lin Dan taking on the current World No 1, Japan’s Kento Momota.
Lin Dan’s dreams of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics are withering away as each tournament exit further widens the gap between him and the young guns. With Chen Long (World No 3) and Shi Yu Qi (World No 5) claiming the top two spots for China in the world rankings, Lin Dan, as of today, won’t be getting his country’s quota for one of the two spots in the men’s singles.
It is in such times, where the ignominy of loss bears heavy on the once indomitable Dan, that he takes on the best player on the tour.
His recent record against Momota isn’t favourable either as Dan has lost their last three career meetings. In fact, Dan’s only win over Momota came back in 2015 when the Japanese star was yet to ascend the proverbial ladder.
While Momota will be the favourite to win the match, Dan’s fans will be hoping for an encore of 'Super' Dan's days of yore.
In the women’s singles draw, Sindhu leads the charge for India and remains the best bet for an Indian on the podium. However, the Indian fifth seed has been handed a tricky draw with her first-round opponent being China’s Li Xuerui, a former Olympic gold medallist and World No 1.
While Xuerui has lately fallen by the wayside as far as the rankings are concerned, currently placed at No 20, there is no denying the fact that she poses a potent threat to Sindhu.
In their six career meetings so far, both Sindhu and Xuerui have shared the spoils. Sindhu will gain heart from the fact that she had won her last match against Xuerui at the Indonesia Open this year.
Further, the Indian’s bullish form of late — where she swatted aside familiar foes Tai Tzu Ying, Nozomi Okuhara and Chen Yufei on her way to her first gold at the Worlds — suggests that Sindhu has found a rather imperious rhythm coming her way, one which is not the least bit amenable to being ‘upset’.
The draw eases thereafter for Sindhu as a possible clash against Canadian Michelle Li will be a somewhat easier match, considering that Li hasn’t beaten Sindhu since 2014. If Sindhu’s half of the draw continues to advance basis tournament seeds, a quarter-final against China’s third seed Yufei may happen.
The winner of this match-up could face the winner of the probable quarter-final between India’s eighth-seeded Saina Nehwal and second-seeded Tai Tzu of Chinese Taipei.
But maybe we are getting too ahead of ourselves since tournament seeds seldom prove to be a proper metric for predicting the course of the draw.
The reason for saying so is that some matches are tricky to predict and even a superior head-to-head record in favour of one player comes with a caveat. For example, Nehwal is drawn to face Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan, ranked 19 in the world.
While the Indian has won three out of four career meetings between the two, she lost their last match in 2017 in straight games. That makes the result of this match a tricky one to anticipate.
Although, if Nehwal pulls through her first-round, next in line for her will be the winner of the match between Fitriani Fitriani and Kim Ga Eun, over both of whom she enjoys a 100 percent win record.
Amongst the overseas players in the women’s singles draw, Spain’s Carolina Marin marks her return to the tour at the China Open with a tough draw.
Her first-round match against Japan’s Okuhara promises to be an eye-catching battle, owing to the contrasting game styles which will be on display: Marin’s naturally attacking game could serve as a counterploy to Okuhara’s attritional tactics aimed at tiring her opponents before going for the kill.
The top seed and World No 1 Akane Yamaguchi of Japan will rest easy in the top half of the draw.
The sprightly Japanese shuttler won’t be threatened before a possible quarter-final clash against sixth-seeded Ratchanok Intanon from Thailand materialises.
The World No 6 Intanon is known for her speed and immaculate court-coverage, which help her prolong the rallies and draw the errors from her opponent. These are tactics which Yamaguchi also puts to good use. Hence, this clash between two players with near-identical playing styles could prove to be a humdinger.
In the doubles draw, all eyes will be on the men’s doubles pairing of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who in August became the first Indian pair to win a BWF Super 500 title.
The pair had broken into the Top 10 after their triumph in Thailand but were forced to withdraw from the World Championships due to injury. In that period, their ranking fell and currently, the pair comes in at No 15 in the world.
Chirag and Satwik will face Canada's Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Nyl Yakura in the opening round at China.
Besides, the pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy will also be in the fray in the men’s doubles. In the women’s doubles, lone Indian pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy will contest.
In the mixed doubles, Ponnappa will partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Sikki will partner Pranaav Jerry Chopra, as India continue to build on its representation in the doubles sphere of badminton.
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