All eyes will be on in-form shuttler Lakshya Sen, double Olympic medallist PV Sindhu, doubles pair Satwikisairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty and World Championships silver medallist Kidambi Srikanth as they look to break India’s 21-year title drought at the All England Championships, which begins on Wednesday.
The top Indian players, including Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Srikanth have not able to add this prestigious trophy to their cabinet, so far. Indeed only two Indians, Pullela Gopichand (2001) and Prakash Padukone (1980), have won badminton’s oldest top level tournament.
While Nehwal come close by reaching the final in 2015, the event has remained elusive for Sindhu, who has otherwise claimed medals in all other big-ticket events such as the Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
Though Sindhu, seeded sixth, will once again be in the reckoning, plenty of hope rides on unseeded Sen, given the kind of build-up the 20-year-old had ahead of the Super 1000 event.
Sen has been in sensational form for the last six months as he added a runners-up finish at the German Open last week, following his title-winning run at India Open and his bronze medal feat at the World Championships in December last year.
The Almora-native will be the cynosure of all eyes as he steps on to the court against compatriot Sourabh Verma in the opening round.
The men’s singles draw also threw up some fascinating early matchups. World No 3 Anders Antonsen and world No 9 & world champion Loh Kean Yew are set for a mouthwatering first round clash in a repeat of the clash in Huelva last year that prompted the Dane to call the Singaporean “superman”. The winner of that match will face the winner of an all-Indian opener between Lakshya Sen and Sourabh Verma. Either way, it promises to be a tough early test for Sen.
Meanwhile, Sindhu, who exited in the second round at the German Open after a defeat to Huelva 2021 brone medallist Zhang Yi Man of China, will be looking to quickly recover from the loss when she opens her campaign against a tricky World No 17 Wang Zhi Yi of China.
The 2019 World Champion from Hyderabad might face Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi in the quarterfinals if she can get that far. But she will also need to overcome either Sayaka Takahashi / Supanida Katethong in the second round, two left-handers who typically trouble the Indian star.
Sindhu’s potential semifinal opponent, per seeding, could be Olympic champion Chen Yufei. In the top half, the battle to the final will likely be between top seed Tai Tzu Ying, fourth seed An Seyoung and fifth seed Nozomi Okuhara.
Nehwal, who struggled against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at the German Open, was handed a tough challenge against World No 10 Pornpawee Chochuwong but the Thai is out of the tournament and she will now face Spain’s Beatriz Corrales.
Former World No 1 Srikanth too has looked in good touch but he has not been able to go the distance in close matches and that would be high on his agenda when he opens against Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen. A clash with fifth seed Anthony Sinisuka Ginting could be on the cards if he crosses the opening hurdle.
For Tokyo Olympian B Sai Pranneth, nothing seems to have gone right in the last six months as he struggled with his fitness and performance. Having recovered from Covid-19, the Indian will be keen to make a positive start to the new season but it would be easier said than done as he faces Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the opening round. Among others, Sameer Verma could be a dark horse as he looked in good touch in the few events he had played before a calf injury ruled him out last year. He will begin his campaign against Dutchman Mark Caljouw.
There are four Indians in the same quarter: Srikanth, Sai, Sameer and Parupalli Kashyap.
On a comeback trail, HS Prannoy will square off against the talented Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand.
In men’s doubles, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will look to continue the momentum after their title run at the India Open in January. The duo has been pitted against Scotland’s Alexander Dunn and Adam Hall in the first round and could face World No 1 Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon in the quarterfinals, a pair they have never beaten yet. But, having defeated the former world champions Ahsan/Setiawan at the India Open, they can take some confidence into this tie should it happen.
Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun will face an uphill task as they cross swords with World No 2 pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan in the first round.
In women’s doubles, Commonwealth Games bronze winners Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy will meet Japan’s Kie Nakanishi and Rin Iwanaga in the first round.
India’s mixed doubles pair of Ishaan Bhatnagar and Tanisha Crasto is also set to face a stern test in the opening round. They were drawn against the Indonesian world No 5 pair of Praveen Jordan and Melati Oktavianti.
Women’s doubles additions to the main draw (India):
Poorvisha Ram/J Meghana
Gayatri Gopichandi/Treesa Jolly
Women’s singles additions (India):
Aakarshi Kashyap gets a place instead of Ratchanok Intanon
Other singles withdrawals:
WS: Kim Gaeun, Mia Blichfeldt, Ratchanok Intanon , Evgeniya Kosetskaya, Pornpawee Chochuwong, Phittayaporn Chaiwan
MS: Rasmus Gemke, Kanta Tsuneyama
Elsewhere second seed Kento Momota, also a former singles champion, is up against Axelsen’s Danish counterpart and Thomas Cup teammate Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus for his first round tie in the bottom half of the draw.
In the women’s singles, world number one and three-time All England Open champion Tai Tzu Ying will take on Lianne Tan in the first round.
Akane Yamaguchi, seeded second, will be one of TTY’s strongest rival, and is in the same half of the draw as Chen Fu Yei (3) who will have to navigate an all-Chinese tie with Zhang Yi Man in the first round (Sindhu in that half too). He Bingjiao is also in this half.
Former world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin, who is working towards making a comeback, is not present in the women’s singles draw.