A handful of top shuttlers, including World No 1, Tai Tzu Ying, and Indians Sameer Verma and H S Prannoy, will be missing from the action at the Indonesia Masters World Tour Super 500 badminton championships that begin at the historic Istora Senayan (Senayan Sports Complex) in Jakarta from Wednesday, with the qualifying rounds taking place on Tuesday.
The top Indian men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, and the mixed doubles combination of Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa, has also opted out of the tournament that, like the just-concluded Malaysia Masters, offers a total prize money purse of $350,000. Ponnappa, though, will be contesting the women’s doubles in partnership with N Sikki Reddy, who herself will also play the mixed doubles with Pranaav Jerry Chopra.
Nevertheless, there is adequate Indian representation in the form of the pre-eminent Indian singles trio of Kidambi Srikanth, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. These three, along with B Sai Praneeth and Parupalli Kashyap, are slated to display their wares at the Istora Senayan that was always used for international badminton events in the last century, but has fallen into relative disuse after the coming up of the vast Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex, a short distance away.
A solitary Indian player features in the 16-player qualifying draw of the men’s singles that will throw out four players into the main draw. Subhankar Dey, who occupies the 48th berth in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, is the highest ranked player within the quartet that is required to produce one winner amongst themselves, to proceed to a spot in the main draw. A spate of last-minute withdrawals induced the promotion of several players from the reserves into the qualifying draw.
Dey takes on Indonesia’s Gatjra Piliang Fiqihila Cupu in his first outing on Tuesday morning; and, if he wins, will play the same afternoon against the victor of the tie between Australian Daniel Fan and another local lad, Yehezkiel Fritz Mainaky. The final winner from this quartet earns the honour of taking on Denmark’s sixth-seeded Viktor Axelsen, the 2017 world champion, in the first round of the main draw.
Japan’s reigning world champion, Kento Momota, who is also the defending champion at the Indonesia Masters, predictably gets pride of place in the seedings, and an opening-round clash against Danish veteran Jan O Jorgensen. Two of the three Indians have been placed in his half of the draw, while Srikanth has been given the eighth seeding, and is drawn to bump into second-seeded Shi Yuqi of China at the quarter-final stage.
Srikanth’s first opponent in the competition is Malaysia’s 43rd ranked Chong Wei Feng, who earned a last-minute promotion from the qualifying draw. The 31-year-old Chong has a 1-2 win-loss career record against the 25-year-old Srikanth, but has not clashed with the Indian since beating him in the 2016 Macau Open.
The victor of this opening-round encounter has a challenging second round against the winner of the match between Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long Angus and Japan’s Thomas Cupper Kenta Nishimoto, who scored a shock triumph against compatriot Momota in Kuala Lumpur last week. Srikanth had beaten Angus comfortably at the Malaysia Masters, and holds a 3-1 head-to-head record against Nishimoto, but had lost in straight games to the 24-year-old Japanese player when the two had last met – at the Hong Kong Open, two months back.
Kashyap, promoted from the qualifying ranks, gets a crack at peppy Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting for the second time in eight days, this time in front of the latter’s partisan home crowds. At the Malaysia Masters, the 22-year-old Ginting had won at 21-17, 25-23 after a 53-minute battle-royal, in which the Indian, a full decade older than the Indonesian, held game-point twice in the second stanza, and fought gallantly to save two match-points, before succumbing.
Sai Praneeth runs into fourth-seeded Chinese, Chen Long, the two-time former world champion and 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist. The two have clashed just once earlier – at the Badminton Asia Championships last year; and Chen had emerged an easy 21-12, 21-12 winner. Praneeth will thus have his work cut out for him, to progress further in the tournament.
Among the women, Sindhu has merited the second seeding, with arch-rival Nozomi Okuhara of Japan getting pride of place in the absence of Taiwanese holder Tai Tzu Ying. The willowy Indian has an intriguing lung-opener against former World No 1, Li Xuerui, whose return to the circuit after two years from a horrific knee injury sustained at the Rio Olympics has been less than an unqualified success.
Sindhu holds a losing 2-3 record against the 27-year-old Xuerui, but it is significant to note that the two have not crossed swords since the 2015 Denmark Open, when the Chinese player was at the peak of her prowess, and had beaten the Indian in straight games. Sindhu has improved substantially since then; and, on paper, will be the odds-on favourite to beat Xuerui, whose movements continue to be slightly restricted in the face of the restructured knee, and whose fitness is somewhat suspect.
Should she clear her first round, Sindhu will meet the winner of the match between exciting Indonesian teenager Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Japan’s experienced Aya Ohori. Thereafter, a quarter-final clash with Spanish fifth seed Carolina Marin, the reigning world and Olympic champion, has been scheduled.
Saina, seeded eighth, has been given the kind of draw that should see her go deep into the competition. She first takes on a qualifier, expected to be local girl Dinar Dyah Ayustine; and then on either Indonesian Fitriani Fitriani or Denmark’s Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt. If the 28-year-old Indian clears these two hurdles, she could run into fourth-seeded Japanese Akane Yamaguchi, against whom she has a poor 2-7 win-loss record.
It must be remembered that Yamaguchi, who was World No 2 for most of 2018, has seen a sharp dip in her fortunes of late; and was beaten by Malaysia’s Goh Jin Wei by a ridiculously one-sided scoreline of 21-14, 21-12 at the Malaysian Masters. It would appear to be Saina’s best chance of hauling in the slack in her head-to-head record against the diminutive Japanese powerhouse.
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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2019 09:14:17 IST