It feels like just yesterday that Srikanth Kidambi played a terrific semifinal match against Lakshya Sen and then went on to play an entertaining final against the unstoppable Loh Kean Yew. Well, just over three weeks later all three of them will be in action at the India Open Super 500 tournament in Delhi starting on Tuesday.

PV Sindhu, fresh from a 2021 season that saw her consistently go deep in tournaments and add a second Olympic medal to her glittering medal cabinet, and Srikanth will begin as top seeds at the tournament that has a heavy Indian presence. Although not uncommon to see plenty of Indian interest in the event, it is significantly higher as the tournament returns after a two-year hiatus. Especially in the three doubles categories and women’s singles, the Indian entries are dominant with diminished international presence. It is just the signs of the times, as countries are still hesitant to travel while the Covid-19 situation hasn’t helped, as well as a hectic finish to the 2021 season that pretty much everyone in the game agreed was too hard on the bodies.

The cloud of Covid-19 is impossible to miss in the lead-up to the event with the national capital among the places witnessing a steep rise in cases. Players to have tested positive and withdrawn of the event include 2019 World Championships bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth (who cannot seem to catch a break at the moment), doubles players Dhruv Rawat, Manu Attri. The English contingent is absent, so are big stars from Indonesia, Japan, China and Denmark.

And so, India’s flagship BWF event is back, perhaps not with a bang but it nevertheless remains important.

For so often in the recent past, all badminton players have been hearing about are the cancelled tournaments. While a semblance of business was restored from the Olympics and beyond, the events that resumed were largely Super 500 and beyond and that limited the playing time for a majority of the second rung players. You needed ranking points to qualify for events, but there were not enough events to play and gain ranking points. Hence, while the star sheen might be a bit lacking, the tournament (the first of three in India, should everything proceed without hiccups) offers a golden chance for many players to earn important ranking points

Hello, Loh

One of the biggest non-Indian names to watch out for would be Singapore’s history-maker Loh Kean Yew. The country’s first ever World Championships gold medallist is still basking in that glory, even posing for pictures with fellow players on the eve of the tournament.

The 24-year-old, who allowed himself to smile and enjoy the enormity of his achievement only after the final was over in Huelva will be keen to start 2022 from where he finished 2021.

Loh, seeded fifth, defeated Srikanth in the World Championships final and the Indian is expected to be his biggest challenger at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall along with bronze medallist Lakshya. Srikanth and Loh could be headed for a semifinal clash.

“There are a lot of good players here and it is not going to be an easy competition for sure. Everyone is coming here to do well… same for me too. I also want to do well and I also want to win this tournament,” said Loh, who will open his campaign against Canada’s Xiaodong Sheng on Tuesday.

The Singaporean is aware that he would be the player to beat this year.

“I ended the year on a high so it was a good year… Nobody will always win. The pressure is always there. I just hope that I can play the best and I can perform,” he added.

For Srikanth, much like Sindhu, India Open will offer a great chance to end a long wait for a BWF World Tour title. The former World No 1 has warmed the hearts of many a badminton fan in the country with his recent resurgence and it will be important for him and Lakshya to build on a strong finish to 2021.

Srikanth will begin his campaign against compatriot Siril Verma. The in-form Sen will start his campaign against Adham Elgamal of Egypt and could face compatriot and World Championships quarter-finalist HS Prannoy in the quarterfinals. Prannoy, who is making a comeback after battling post COVID after-effects, is set to kickstart his challenge against Spaniard Pablo Abian. Sixth seed Sameer Verma, who had suffered a calf muscle injury in Denmark, will also look to go deep into the draw after starting his campaign against his elder brother Sourabh.

Daddies to watch out for in Doubles

Three-time world champion Indonesian duo of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan are the top seeds in men’s doubles and their biggest challenge will come from Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, the second seeds. Third seeds Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi of Malaysia have been in great form. But also in contention will be the likes of MR Arjun-Dhruv Kapila, Krishna Prasad-Vishnuvardhan Goud... pairs who have been knocking on the doors of the big time but need a breakthrough sooner rather than later.

In women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy finished the year well and with top seeds Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Projongjai pulling out, are the effective No 1 pairing in the event. Sikki Reddy is paired up with Dhruv Kapila in mixed doubles, where Indians have the numbers but the draw lacks real quality on paper.

Sindhu and Saina, but who next?

It’s a question that has been on the minds of Indian fans for a while now.

Sindhu will begin her campaign against compatriot Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli, while Russian fifth seed Evgeniya Kosetskaya could be her opponent in the last-eight stage. Two-time champion Saina Nehwal, Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan and Singapore’s up and coming Yeo Jia Min Yeo are the other main contenders in women’s singles. The London Olympics bronze medallist and fourth seed Nehwal, who endured a tough last year plagued with multiple injuries, is likely to square off against seventh seed Iris Wang of USA in the quarterfinals and second seed Ongbamrungphan in the semifinals.

But this tournament is a golden chance for the next-gen in women’s singles to produce head-turning performances. The likes of Ashmita Chaliha, Aakarshi Kashyap, Malvika Bansod and Samiya Imad Farooqi have the results in the domestic tournaments and age in their favour, but Indian badminton could use a breakthrough for one (or a few) of them.

The $400,000 prize money Super 500 event will kickstart the 2022 World Tour season. The 10th edition of the tournament, which is being held after a gap of two years following the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, will see participants from nearly 20 countries across five categories vying for the prize purse. Due to the Covid related restrictions, strict protocol are followed and all players have to go through mandatory tests before entering the venue as the main draw start from Tuesday. The tournament is held behind closed doors without fans.

Sindhu, Srikanth and Loh are among those in action on day one. Schedule is available here. There is no official confirmation on who will be broadcasting / live-streaming the event and from when but understands the latter stages will be live on Sony Sports Network in India.

With PTI inputs