Indonesia Open 2018: Kidambi Srikanth faces stiff challenge for title defence as Indians get tough draws

The international badminton circus is fast gathering steam as it whirls through the South East Asian part of the newly instituted World Tour that replaced the Superseries and Superseries Premier tournaments of yesteryears.

After being witness to one of the best men’s singles finals in recent years at the Malaysia Open in Kuala Lumpur, the badminton lover is invited to move further south across the Equator to Jakarta for the Indonesia Open, the most prestigious badminton competition in the region, that offers prize money of $1.25 million.

 Indonesia Open 2018: Kidambi Srikanth faces stiff challenge for title defence as Indians get tough draws

Defending champion Srikanth faces Kento Momota in first round. AP/ File

This is one tournament that Indians should be looking forward to this year, for it was in Jakarta that their pre-eminent male shuttler, Kidambi Srikanth, bagged one of the four Superseries titles he won during the 2017 season. The 25-year-old Pullela Gopichand Academy trainee, who is seeded fourth this time, will seek to defend his title at the Istora Gelora Bung Karno against the best in the world, for none among the world’s top 15 men and women is prepared to give this cash-rich event a miss.

Once again placed in the bottom half of a draw that looks very similar to the draw at the Malaysia Open, Srikanth is slated to bump into South Korea’s second seed, Son Wan Ho, in the semi-finals, provided both men wade successfully through their earlier three encounters. And therein lies the problem.

Son incurred a calf injury at the Axiata Arena last week, and had to retire when leading 1-0 in the second game, after losing the opening stanza of his second-round match against unseeded Japanese, Kento Momota. The injury is unlikely to have healed in the space of five days, and it is likely that the World No 2 will give this event a miss — unless he is foolhardy enough to play, merely to ink his presence in the draw and satisfy the BWF requirements of the top players playing 15 tournaments a year.

In the wake of Son’s retirement in Kuala Lumpur, the 23-year-old Momota, ranked 11th in the world, went on a giant-killing spree, scalping four top-ten players, including Srikanth in the semi-final, before losing narrowly at 17-21, 21-23 to Malaysian veteran Lee Chong Wei in a rip-roaring final last Sunday.

So, guess who this most dangerous floater in the men’s singles event has been drawn to meet in his opening round? Defending champion Srikanth, whom he roundly thrashed by a 21-13, 21-13 scoreline at the Malaysia Open last Saturday! Momota leads their head-to-heads 6-3, with comprehensive victories in their three most recent meetings — in none of which he conceded more than 13 points per game to the Indian. Srikanth’s most ardent supporter would hesitate to bet on the No 4 seed reversing this trend of comprehensive defeats.

Three other Indians feature in the draw that is headed by reigning world champion and World No 1, Viktor Axelsen. Bracketed with the top seed for a potential second-round meeting is 18th ranked Sameer Verma, who crosses swords with Denmark’s 21-year-old Rasmus Gemke in his lung-opener. The Madhya Pradesh native stands a decent chance of beating the 28th-ranked Dane in what will be their first encounter.

Should Verma win, he would run into the winner of the opening-round clash between Axelsen and Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting. Although top-seeded and strongly favoured to get past Ginting, Axelsen cannot afford to take matters lightly, since he looked distinctly rusty in Kuala Lumpur, losing to Lee Chong Wei tamely.

HS Prannoy, who had given the Malaysia Open a miss, has been seeded eighth here, and runs into Chinese legend Lin Dan first up. The Kerala-born shuttler has beaten the five-time former world champion before, and would stand a good chance of scoring over Super Dan, provided his foot has healed completely from the painful corns he had suffered in the opening weeks of this year.

Prannoy was nowhere near his best at the recently-concluded Thomas Cup finals in Bangkok. But then, the same goes for Lin, who has had a string of poor results of late, including a 19-21, 12-21 bashing at compatriot and third seed, Shi Yuqi’s hands.

Their winner runs into either India's Sai Praneeth or the World No 15, Wang Tzu Wei of Chinese Taipei. It could be said that the Chinese Taipei player is stalking Praneeth, for the two had bumped into each other in Kuala Lumpur last week as well, when Wang beat Praneeth comfortably. The Indian will find it hard to reverse that result.

The women’s singles draw will see three Indians in the fray after a very long time, instead just PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. A newcomer to the world’s elite set of shuttlers is 16-year-old Vaishnavi Reddy Jakka, ranked 55 in the world. How she has managed to gain entry into the main draw of this prestigious event is a mystery, but the talented youngster has a chance of making the best of it.

Reddy Jakka runs into Denmark’s Line (pronounced ‘Lea-ner’) Hojmark Kjaersfeldt in her opening round, in what is their first-ever meeting, with their winner slated to meet top seed and World No 1, Tai Tzu Ying, champion at the Malaysia Open last week. There is no need to discuss the Indian’s prospects beyond this round.

Former World No 1, Saina Nehwal runs into Indonesia’s Dinar Dyah Ayustine, whom she has met only once in 2016, and beaten in three games. The Indian would be expected to win, and take on China’s fifth-seeded Chen Yufei, against whom she has a 1-1 win-loss record. Having lost to Chen at the Hong Kong Open last November, Saina managed to beat the 20-year-old Chinese at the Indonesia Masters earlier this year. Incidentally, both matches went to three games.

For Sindhu, Thursday, 5 July, will mark her 23rd birthday. On the eve of that joyous occasion, Sindhu will clash with Thailand’s 2016 world junior runner-up, Pornpawee Chochuwong, whom she has beaten twice without reply.

The winner will play the victor of the clash between Japan’s Aya Ohori (whom she beat in the first round of the recent Malaysia Open) and American Zhang Beiwen, a steady, no-frills player to whom the Indian has lost on both occasions they have played.

If Sindhu goes through her first two rounds, she would qualify for a quarter-final meeting with either Malaysia Open runner-up He Bingjiao of China, seeded eighth, or Thailand’s up-and-coming Busanan Ongbumrungpan. A triumph in the quarters will take Sindhu to a repeat semi-final meeting with Tai Tzu Ying, against whom she has lost on the most recent five occasions that they have bumped into each other.

In short, none of the seven Indians in the singles fray at Jakarta have an easy passage forward. So full of hazards and obstacles is the minefield they have drawn, that it would be a miracle if even two of them were to reach the semi-finals.

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2018 10:08:08 IST