Inevitably, after the lull comes the storm. Following a month-long hiatus at the end of the Thomas and Uber Cup international team tournaments, the badminton World Tour is once again poised to gather steam with four top-level (in terms of prize money offered) tournaments in South-East Asia, hard on the heels of one another, from the final week of June to the end of the third week of July.
The $700,000 Malaysia Open, a Badminton World Federeation (BWF) World Tour Super 750 tournament, to be played in Kuala Lumpur from 26 June to 1 July, forms the vanguard of this quartet of competitions. It is followed by the prestigious Super 1000 Indonesia Open, which is to be played in Jakarta from 3-8 July, and which offers the highest amount of prize money of the four — a purse of $1.25 million.
Players then move to Bangkok for the $350,000 Thailand Open, to be played from 10-15 July, and finish the fourth leg of the elite Asia-Pacific circuit in Singapore, where the $355,000-prize money Singapore Open will be contested between 17-22 July. Both events are ranked in the Super 500 category, which is the third level of tournaments on the World Tour.
The shuttlers, ranked among the top 32 (extending up to 40, in case some of the top names do not play in a particular tournament) in the world, are then given the option of either playing in lower-level tournaments or taking some time off, even as those ranked outside the elite list fight for top honours in a trio of Super 100 tournaments, offering $75,000 each in prize money, and taking place in late-July and August, in Akita (Japan), Vladivostok (Russia) and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam).
Sandwiched between the Vladivostok and Ho Chi Minh City events are the BWF World Championships, in Nanjing, China, from 30 July to 5 August. Thereafter, Indonesia will welcome all eligible players to Jakarta for the fortnight-long Asian Games, starting 18 August.
It is a gruelling schedule, and will test the strength, durability, stamina and resilience of the top players, who this year are required by the BWF to play a minimum of 15 tournaments in the course of the season. Trainers and coaches will have to confront the challenge of keeping their wards injury-free over these crucial next six weeks, culminating in the World Championships.
Enquiries with the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA), the main national centre for Indian shuttlers, revealed that all the country’s players ranked among the top 40 — both male and female, and both singles and doubles specialists — are in fine fettle, injury-free, and raring to get back to serious competition after a much-needed break.
Every one of them has gone through a planning session with Gopichand and their designated coach, working out which tournaments they would be participating in, and which they would be giving a miss. Given the BWF’s deadline of six weeks before the start of the event for confirming entries, all the Indian players eligible for automatic main-draw entries have sent in their acceptance for all four tournaments.
But there will be withdrawals. Not a single eligible player from India — Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal — will play in all four of the South-East Asian events, even though their entries are present in all the draws.
“I am skipping the Malaysian Open, and will be playing two of the four tournaments — the Indonesian and Thailand Opens,” said Prannoy, on the phone from Hyderabad.
“I am fully fit, and have no injury problem, but it is not possible to give your 100% over four successive weeks. The BWF wants every top player to play in the Indonesian Open, which is a Level Two tournament, so that one is definitely on my list. And I want to remain fit and work towards the World Championships.”
Prannoy, who was ranked No 9 in the world at the time of submission of entry but has since fallen to 13th, was seeded eighth in the Malaysian Open, but will surrender his position to a player who will be promoted from the qualifying ranks. Srikanth, who has dropped to seventh in the world rankings, has been seeded fourth in Kuala Lumpur, and has actually been placed in the substantially easier half of the draw in which South Korea’s second seed Son Wan Ho, Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen (seeded sixth) and Prannoy are the other three seeds.
The top half of the draw in Malaysia has become an intense dogfight between five powerful contenders — top-seeded reigning world champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, China’s recently-crowned All England champion Shi Yuqi (seeded third), China’s two-time former world champion Chen Long (5), Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei (7) and unseeded Chinese ace, Lin Dan, a five-time former world champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist.
“After getting such a favourable draw, Srikanth will definitely play in Kuala Lumpur, and will also play in Jakarta because every top player will be competing,” said PGBA’s singles coach Amrish Shinde. “But he will most probably skip Bangkok, and is 50-50 for Singapore.”
Similarly, Sai Praneeth, currently at the 21st spot in the rankings, will play three of the four South East Asian tournaments, most probably giving the Thailand Open a miss, and defending his Singapore Open title, where he had beaten compatriot Srikanth in the final last year.
Sameer Verma, who occupies the 19th rung of the ladder, will also play three out of four tournaments, unless he suffers a very early exit in two of the events, in which case, he would participate in all four.
Among the women, Sindhu, who has hung on to her third spot in the BWF rankings, behind Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying and Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, has been seeded third in Kuala Lumpur, and could hone her skills in all four tournaments before the World Championships. Saina, ranked 10th in the world, will, however, rest content with two of the four competitions, the Malaysian and Indonesian Opens.
Similarly, India’s doubles exponents have all sent their entries to the tournaments where they are eligible to play, according to their rankings. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, ranked No 18, and Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy, ranked 22nd, are expected to play all four tournaments to beef up their ranking for the rest of the season.
Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, who come in at No 25 in the women’s doubles world standings, have chosen to give Malaysia a miss because the former is unavailable, but they will be pairing up in Jakarta. Sikki Reddy will be on court in Kuala Lumpur, though, in the company of Pranaav Jerry Chopra, with the 21st-ranked mixed doubles duo looking to break into world’s top ten.
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Updated Date: Jun 23, 2018 10:28:52 IST