India Open 2017: Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth eye strong show on home soil
The second Super Series of 2017, All India Open, starts in New Delhi on 28 March, and India's hopes rest on the shoulders of Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth.
The badminton season has just begun and merely days after the All England Championships in Birmingham, the second Superseries of BWF calendar — Yonex Sunrise India — is set to start in New Delhi on 28 March. The event is one of the four major tournaments to be held in India. Most of the top-seeded shuttlers will be in action at the Siri Fort Complex for the 10th edition, however, three-time India Open winner Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan have planned to skip the event in order to be in shape for the Malaysian Superseries. Also, the event will miss the dynamic All England winner Tai Tzu Ying and Danish ace Jan O Jorgensen.
China has dominated the tournament since its inception in 2008 with 10 medals, and India — with four — will be aiming to close the gap with a good chance to bag a medal in every event.
Possible Saina-Sindhu showdown
In the women's singles, two-time winner Saina Nehwal will be eager to reclaim the title as she faces Chia Hsin Lee of Chinese Taipei in her opening match. These two shuttlers will square off for the very first time. Leaving behind her injury issues, Saina finally looks to be back in good touch and a strong performance at the All England indicates that her match-fitness is on track ahead of the event.
“At the All England, there was a 50-50 chance of winning the quarter-finals (against Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun). Since body movement was restricted, I wasn’t able to sustain myself as the match progressed. But overall it has been a good journey,” said Saina.
Third seed PV Sindhu, on the other hand, will play compatriot Arundhati Pantawane in the first round. High-flying Sindhu has had a brilliant start to the calendar year but she too crashed out early at the All England. "The responsibility is always high and everyone expects to give their best but I only think about myself and not worry about others. Just keep calm and focus," she said.
However, there is a possibility of a much-anticipated Saina-Sindhu clash in the quarter-finals, if they both win their respective first and second rounds for a dream contest. The winner of the quarter-final may face Carolina Marin or Ratchanok Intanon in the semi-finals.
Apart from the Indian duo, top-seeded Marin, who is already in India for the promotion of La Liga, has an easy draw against unseeded Kim Hyo Min whereas second seed Sung Ji Hyun will face Indian Shri Krishna Priya in the first round. "I want to win here (India Open). Winning Olympic was the greatest achievement but I want to win more tournaments now. I will try to do my best," Marin said.
Twenty-four-year-old Tanvi Lad meets seventh seed Nozomi Okuhara whereas All England runner-up and former World No. 1 Ratchanok Intanon will be up against unseeded Gao Fangjie of China.
Exciting men's singles draw
Srikanth Kidambi is India's best hope in the men's singles. He starts his campaign against a qualifier, and he recently expressed his desire to win the men's event as it will automatically ensure his place in the World Championships in Glasgow in April. "India Open is very important for me, this tournament along with the next two tournaments in Malaysia and Singapore will be crucial for my qualification at the World Championships. I am really looking forward to the India Open. I am feeling confident after playing at the German Open and All England. I think I played really well and I really want to do well at India Super Series,” said the former World No 3. Srikanth is the only Indian male shuttler to have clinched the India Open title in 2015.
Coming back from a knee injury in the recently-concluded Swiss Open, HS Prannoy begins his India Open campaign against fellow shuttler Sourabh Verma. "Everyone will be equally strong. At this level, on a given day, anyone can beat anyone. The field looks quite equal", Prannoy was quoted as saying by Times of India.
Meanwhile, Ajay Jayaram and Sameer Verma have a huge task as they take on third seed Viktor Axelsen and fourth seed Son Wan Ho in the first round. However, Jayaram leads 2-1 in the head-to-head record with the Dane. Lastly, Sai Praneeth will play a qualifier and will then face seventh seed Chou Tien Chen in the second round.
Chance for local doubles shuttlers
Elsewhere in the men's doubles, B Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri lock horns with Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi in the first round. The Indian duo has not been up to the mark in recent tournaments but playing on home soil could be an advantage. Fresh from an emphatic title win at the Vietnam International Open, teenage duo Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag will look to leave their mark, and they face Danish pair Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen in the first round. The duo showed glimpses of their prowess during the Premier Badminton League (PBL) earlier this year playing alongside the likes of Marin and Sung Ji for Hyderabad Hunters and Mumbai Rockets respectively.
M Anilkumar Raju and Venkat Gaurav Prasad, Tarun Kona and Alwin Francis, Arjun MR and Shlok Ramchandran, Jishnu Sanyal and Shivam Sharma are the other pairs who will try their luck at the event.
In the mixed doubles event, Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy will have to regain their form as they were ousted in the first round at the All England earlier this month. Venkat Gaurav Prasad and Juhi Dewangan have been slated to start against fourth seed Peng Soon Chan and Liu Ying Goh.
In women's doubles, 10 local pairs will fight it out including Sikki and Ashwini Ponnappa who play the first round against Indonesian pair of Hafiz Faizal and Shela Devi Aulia. Also, Aparna Balan and Prajakta Sawant face a tough draw against Korean Chae Yoo Yung and Kim Ha Na.
Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram, Sanjana Santosh and Arathi Sara Sunil, Deepali Gupta and Pragya Rai, Komal Antil and Lalita Dahiya, Juhi Dewangan and Saumya Singh, Gauri Asaji and Megha Morchana Bora, Sruthi KP and Haritha Manazhiyil Harinarayanan and, Kuhoo Garg and Ningshi Block Hazarika are the other pairs who will be in action against shuttlers from around the world.
Yet again, India's hopes rest on the shoulders of Saina, Sindhu, Kidambi and Prannoy in the Superseries event but what's interesting is that so many local shuttlers have a platform to perform. Expect a lot of surprises and close matches as this is a chance for top Indian shuttlers to excel on home soil.
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The world No 25 and tournament top seed Sen went down to the 41st-ranked Yew 12-21, 16-21 in the final, which lasted for 36 minutes.
A struggling Kidambi Srikanth was outplayed by his world number 2 opponent and Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Viktor Axelsen, who won the first match 21-12, 21-13 in 38 minutes.