With the fun and games that were essentially the Premier Badminton League (PBL) masala matches coming to an end, the world’s shuttlers have hunkered down to serious business, with a couple of ‘Masters’ (Level Three in the new dispensation) tournaments taking place in South-east Asia, hard on the backs of each other.
There was token Indian representation in the Malaysia Masters, that took place in Kuala Lumpur last week, and the Indonesia Masters, that kicks off in Jakarta from 23 January will also witness the participation of a understrength Indian contingent, that is scheduled to exhibit its wares at the refurbished and renovated Istora Senayan, in the heart of the Indonesian capital.
It would appear that several Indian topnotchers, including Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy, have taken longer than a week off at the conclusion of the breathless 23-day PBL, even as some of the world’s top shuttlers had their noses to the grindstone in Kuala Lumpur.
Japan’s up-and-coming Kenta Nishimoto put in a stellar performance by nearly dethroning Danish world champion Viktor Axelsen in the final, after bundling out veteran ace, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, in the opening round itself. A 19-21, 21-18, 21-18 triumph over Lee was nearly mirrored in the title clash against Axelsen, but the towering 6’ 4” Dane just about managed to hold on for a 21-13, 21-23, 21-18 win.
Earlier, Axelsen had notched up a facile 21-17, 21-8 second-round victory over World No 15, B Sai Praneeth, who had been the flag-bearer of the Indian challenge in Kuala Lumpur, but is not in the fray in Jakarta.
There was even more drama in the Malaysia Masters women’s singles when Thailand’s 2013 world champion, Ratchanok Intanon, claimed two top scalps from a No 5 position in the seedings’ list. The strokeful 22-year-old Thai showed a new level of physical fitness to add to her courtcraft and rich array of strokes, to pip Japan’s World No 2, Akane Yamaguchi at the semi-final stage, at 21-15, 16-21, 21-19, before toppling Chinese Taipei’s World No 1, Tai Tzu Ying in an epic final at 21-16, 14-21, 24-22.
All these fine players, with the exception of Yamaguchi, will be in the fray at the Senayan Sports Complex from Tuesday; and will be joined by the likes of Japan’s reigning world champion Nozomi Okuhara, India’s PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, Spain’s two-time former world champion and Olympic gold medalist, Carolina Marin, South Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, and China’s Chen Yufei and He Bingjiao. In other words, all the world’s top ten, bar one.
Predictably, Tai continues to occupy pride of place at the top of the draw by virtue of her runaway lead in points, while Sindhu, in the absence of Yamaguchi, is seeded second. Starting out with a none-too-difficult lung-opener against Indonesia’s Hanna Ramadini, Sindhu could run into either one of two qualifiers in the second round, before crossing swords in the quarter-finals with the winner of a section of the draw that includes Chen Yufei, Nehwal and another Chinese, Chen Xiaoxin.
Indeed, Nehwal, by virtue of being unranked in the top eight, is just a dangerous floater in the draw, and runs into Chen Yufei in her opening match. Their victor clashes in the second round with the winner of the tie between Chen Xiaoxin and Bulgaria’s Linda Zetchiri.
All these players are bracketed in the bottom half of the draw, which has, on paper, a quarter-final encounter between world champion Okuhara and the Malaysia Masters champion, Intanon. In other words, the winner of the likely quarter-final between Sindhu and Chen Yufei is slated to bump into the Okuhara-Intanon winner in the penultimate round.
The top half of the draw is dominated by Tai and Marin, who was undefeated for Hyderabad Hunters in the recent PBL, and is seeded third in Jakarta. Barring mishaps, the top quarter should see a last-eight stage joust between the Taiwanese top seed and Korean Sung, while the second quarter has Marin pitted against Chinese left-hander He Bingjiao.
In the men’s singles, there would be no prizes for guessing the name of the player who has been given top seeding. World champion Axelsen has been asked to take care of Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Jen Hao when he hits his first shuttle at the Istora Senayan, and will then have to take on the winner of the clash between India’s Sameer Verma and dangerous Japanese floater, Kazumasa Sakai.
At the opposite end of the draw, Parupalli Kashyap, promoted from the qualifying rounds, occupies the spot vacated by his compatriot, Srikanth, a late withdrawal due to fitness issues. Kashyap has a challenging opening outing against Malaysian southpaw Chong Wei Feng, with the winner slated to clash against either Thailand’s Khosit Phetpradab or Denmark’s Hans Kristian Solberg Vittinghus in the second round.
Let it be recorded that the 32-year-old Vittinghus, ranked 19th on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, is currently in top form, having reached the semi-finals of the Malaysia Masters, after taking Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent, Taiwan’s Wang Tzu Wei and Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in stride, before coming to grief at the hands of Japan’s Nishimoto in the penultimate reckoning. All of which means that Kashyap will have to play out of his skin to get beyond the second round.
There is no other Indian in the main draw of the men’s singles, but a couple are in contention for a spot from the qualifying tournament — Abhishek Yeligar and the bustling Subhankar Dey, who had given a good account of himself in the recent PBL.
Yeligar meets Indonesia’s Vega Vio Nirwanda, brought in from the standbys, and also needs to get past former world No 4, Sony Dwi Kuncoro, if he is to make the main draw. Dey must show another local lad, Panji Ahmed Maulana, the exit door, and must then sideline the winner of the first-round qualifying match between Frenchman Lucas Corvee and Taipei’s Kan Chao Yu.
No Indian features in the qualifying draw of the women’s singles, but a couple of Indian pairs have made it to the main draw of the men’s doubles. National champions Manu Attri and Sumeeth B Reddy have been given the task of tackling Taipei’s Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han; and, if they win, will have the giant Russian Vladimir Ivanov and his fellow-countryman Ivan Sozonov, the 2016 All England champions, barring their path in the second round.
The young Indian duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have an even tougher opening match, as Japanese eighth seeds, Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko, will present a strong challenge to their further progress. These pairs are in the section of the draw topped by fourth-seeded Danes Mads Pieler Kolding and Mads Conrad-Petersen.
Surprisingly, there is no Indian challenge in either the women’s doubles or the mixed doubles. One would have thought that, with Rankireddy already competing in the men’s doubles, his regular mixed doubles partner, Ashwini Ponnappa, could have made the trip to Jakarta. They would certainly have merited a spot in the main draw, although other Indian mixed doubles pairs led by Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Manu Attri might have been hard put to win a spot in even the qualifying rounds.
All told, spectator interest is likely to be concentrated on the women’s singles, even more than on the men’s individual event, although the Indonesian Masters will see the 2018 debut of the peerless Lin Dan and his compatriot Chen Long, who have seven world championship titles and three Olympic gold medals between them.
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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2018 20:53:01 IST