In the year of the Asian Games, the Badminton Asia Championships are as good a marker as any to find out where the shuttlers stand and India will be hoping for a good show in a strong field as the tournament begins in Manila, Phillipines on Tuesday.
Among the top-eight seeded entries from India are two-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu (4th seed), world championships medallists Srikanth Kidambi (7th) and Lakshya Sen (5th) in men’s singles, and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (3rd) in men’s doubles. And considering their pedigree, these are the names that India will look for a podium finish from at the event.
The continental championships is returning after a gap of two years. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the two-year break, the event was held in Wuhan, China, for five consecutive years from 2015 to 2019. This will be the 40th edition of the tournament. Kento Momota and Akane Yamaguchi won the men’s and women’s titles last time around and both are in mix for the top spot once again in Manila. Tai Tzu Ying, the world No 1, is not competing.
HS Prannoy, who had claimed a bronze at the 2018 Wuhan edition and is in good form, will be missing in action after withdrawing due to an injury sustained on his way to a Swiss Open final finish.
Can Sen reach podium?
Sen, the 20-year-old from Almora, has been on a stellar run in 2022 with a memorable title at the India Open Super 500 and final appearances at the German Open as well as the prestigious All England Championships. He will be hoping to bounce back from a rare disappointing outing at Korea Open Super 500 recently. Sen had also won a bronze at the 2020 Asia team Championships, besides bagging a gold and bronze at the 2018 and 2016 Asian Junior Championships.
His task won’t be easy in Manila as he faces 22-year-old China’s Li Shi Feng, a tricky young opponent familiar to Sen from his junior days, in his opening round. The Indian is also in the same quarter as top seed Momota and will run into the Japanese star in the quarterfinals should seedings hold.
World championships silver medallist Srikanth, too, has been in good touch in recent months, recently defeating former world No 1 Son Wan Ho in Korea, but has had issues closing out matches. The seventh seed, who won two bronze medals in 2016 and 2020 Asia Team Championships but is yet to claim an individual medal, starts off against Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong, who was impressive at the Indian Open and is rated highly. Srikanth is in the bottom quarter and is in line to face second seed Anthony Ginting in the last eight.
Tokyo Olympian B Sai Praneeth, struggling for results in recent times, will face a tough ask against fourth-seeded Jonatan Christie to start his campaign.
Sindhu’s title quest
All eyes will also be on former world champion Sindhu, a bronze medallist at this event in the 2014 Gimcheon edition. She is yet to reach the final of this competition and 2022 will be a chance for the superstar to do so, as she is coming into the event after securing two BWF World Tour Super 300 titles at Syed Modi International and Swiss Open. The world No 7 begins her campaign against Chinese Taipei’s Pai Yu Po.
Sindhu is likely to come across fifth-seeded He Bing Jiao in the quarterfinals and that will present a big test for the Indian as the Chinese shuttler has been in great form on tour recently, winning titles in Korea and Germany. A potential semi-final then awaits Sindhu against top seed and reigning world champion Akane Yamaguchi. Sindhu will be without the assistance of coach Park Tae Sang at this event, as the Korean is on a break.
There have been plenty of talk around Saina Nehwal’s international future in recent weeks, as she missed the selection trials for the big-ticket events in 2022 and is not part of the Indian squad announced for Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. A multiple former bronze medallist at this event, Saina must be hoping to answer some of those doubts with a good run in Manila. She has been on a comeback trail after recovering from some nagging injuries but looked in good touch as she pushed Yamaguchi to the distance at All England recently.
Nehwal starts off against Korea’s Sim Yujin and is in the same quarter as third seed Nozomi Okuhara.
Aakarshi Kashyap, who has been selected for all the three major events after she emerged as the winner in the trials, has a huge ask first up. She will face top seed Akane Yamaguchi in one of her biggest tests so far. India’s fourth WS entry is Malvika Bansod who also faces a tricky opening test against Singapore’s Yeo Jia Min. Bansod will look to bounce back from the disappointment of the trials where she finished fifth.
Doubles hopes rest on familiar faces
World number 7 and third seeds Satwik-Chirag have just gone off the boil since starting the season with a title at India Open. While one could argue luck did not favour them against the top seeds from Indonesia - Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (absent at this event as the former recovers from surgery) - at the All England Open in a thrilling battle, the Indians have been guilty of losing winnable matches on tour this year.
It is something they will hope to address as they start their campaign against Thai pair of Apiluk Gaterahong and Natchanon Tulamok. They could then potentially run into the All England Open champions Maulana Bagas and Muhammad Shohibul Fikri in the second round. Should they reach quarterfinals, another tough test would await against Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik before a potential semifinal showdown against top seeds and idols Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan.
MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, who recently made it to the Asian Games and Thomas Cup teams after finishing on top at the selection trials in New Delhi, are the second Indian pair. They have been playing well on tour without the results to show for it and will look to change that as they take on fourth seeded Indonesian combination of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto in its opening round. Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala are in action against Korea’s Kang Minhyuk and Kim Wonho in the opening round. Former national champions Manu Atri and B Sumeeth Reddy withdrew.
In women’s doubles, India have been hit by the withdrawals of N Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa, as well as Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand. The selection trials had taken its toll on both the pairs with Sikki and Gayatri suffering injuries.
Ashwini Bhat K and Shikha Gautam, Simran Singhi and Ritika Thaker are two pairs in women’s doubles contention for India. The latter have recently been called up to the Uber Cup squad and will look to impress here. In the mixed doubles, Venkat Gaurav Prasad and Juhi Dewangan, and Ishaan Bhatnagar and Tanisha Crasto are in the fray.
The official broadcaster channels for the latter stages of the tournament in India is Sony Ten 1 and Sony LIV (streaming platform).