Viktor Axelsen. Akane Yamaguchi. Carolina Marin. Lee Zii Jia. Nozomi Okuhara. Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan. Kento Momota. Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong. Chen Yufei. Anthony Sinisuka Ginting.
These are just some of the names that are in New Delhi for the 2023 India Open starting on Tuesday.
Of course, India Open has been traditionally the biggest BWF World Tour event in the country. But this time – as the organisers are promoting on social media – it is #BiggerThanEver.
Simply put, the best among world’s badminton are going to be competing for the year’s second World Tour event, following Super 1000 in Malaysia last week (also promoted from Super 750 earlier).
India Open was a Super 500 in the recent years and that meant that attracting top talents hasn’t always been easy, given that level of tournament is not mandatory. We have see Axelsen win a title twice, and this writer was present in 2017 when the Delhi crowd threw their adulation at him with chants of “Viktor bhai”. That was also the day, PV Sindhu had a rematch against Carolina Marin not long after their Olympic Games final, with the Indian winning the title this time around.
The strong Indian presence at this event is a given. Sindhu, HS Prannoy – the country’s top-ranked singles players – defending champions Lakshya Sen and the dynamic duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will be hoping to provide the fans with lots to cheer.
But to have this galaxy of stars all at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall from January 17-22, 2023 is a symbol of how significant India’s push to go from Super 500 to Super 750 was.
“Really very happy that I am back from injury. Also happy that it is a 750 this time and the top players are here,” India’s Sindhu told reporters in Delhi ahead of the event. “It feels something different, every time it was a 500. It’s going to be exciting. Lots of fans and top class players... last time due to pandemic, there weren’t too many here. Playing in the home ground... lots of memories playing in India. It’s been always exciting, but as a 750 it is a different feeling altogether.”
Sindhu faces a familiar foe
Sindhu will start the 2023 India Open against the player who ended her 2022 India Open run in the semifinals. Supanida Katethong, an aggressive left-hander from Thailand, troubled Sindhu last year with her angled drops and bursts of all-out attack but a rejuvenated Sindhu is primed to do well this year around. Sindhu has won her two meetings since against Katethong and has a 3-1 H2H.
“I can’t say I will win it, I will try my best. Fitness wise I am satisfied, all fit and fine, just hoping for my best on the day,” Sindhu said. “Playing with Marin in Malaysia after an injury, I was happy with the way I played. Satisfied overall. To get the confidence levels after coming from an injury, it takes a lot of time. Winning and losing is part of it, but you need to be satisfied with what you did on court.”
Saina Nehwal, the former world No 1, will begin her campaign against Mia Blichfeldt of Denmark. Should the two Indian stalwarts manage to win their first two rounds, a blockbuster clash between would be a quarterfinal day highlight. But Nehwal would have to potentially overcome the third seed and reigning Olympic champion Chen Yufei to do that.
Former world champions Nozomi Okuhara of Japan and Carolina Marin of Spain will face off in what is the highlight of the opening round in women’s singles. Top seed Akane Yamaguchi of Japan will kick off her campaign against Spain’s Clara Azurmendi.
Malvika Bansod and Aakarshi Kashyap have managed to avoid a top-10 opponent in the opening round. Bansod, who made a mark last year beating (an admittedly not-fully fit) Nehwal, will take on Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan while Kashyap meets former India Open champion Beiwen Zhang of USA in the opening round.
Nightmare / blockbuster men’s singles draw
It depends on whether you are a glass-full kind of badminton fan or not, to determine what to make of the men’s singles draw which puts Srikanth Kidambi and HS Prannoy and Lakshya Sen in the same quarter. And not just that, Srikanth starts off against Viktor Axelsen, the Danish juggernaut while Prannoy and Lakshya are in each other’s way once again in the opening round, for the second straight week. As if that wasn’t enough, add China’s Shi Yu Qi and Japan’s Kento Momota to the mix.
Prannoy and Sen are at 3-3 on their H2H now and have faced all six times since the last of year only. Srikanth has to overcome the challenge of top seed Axelsen in the opening round with a potential clash against Shi, who has made a strong comeback after being out of action for almost 10 months.
None of the other three quarters boast of such a strong star cast but there would be a few mouth-watering opening round clashes to look forward to. Third seed and former world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore will take on the fast rising Japanese Kodai Naraoka while sixth seed Anthony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia will face China’s Lu Guang Zu in the first round.
Sen said he can’t afford to think much about the way the luck of the draw has been and treat the opening round as any other match. “My ultimate aim is to defend my title. But I am going to focus on one match at a time,” he said in the pre event press conference.
“Me and Prannoy have played many times in the last one year. But most of those matches were at the quarterfinal stage. But this time we are playing back to back first round matches and I need to treat it as any other match.”
In men’s doubles, fifth seeds Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty begin their campaign against Scottish reserves Christopher Grimley and Matthew Grimley, and should be targeting a potential quarterfinal clash against top seeds Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi of Japan as the first major hurdle in their title defence. Even before that rematch of their sensational comeback against China’s Liu/Ou is also on the cards in the second round.
MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila have withdrawn from the event while Krishna Prasad G and Vishnuvardhan Goud P begin their campaign against Netherlands’ Ruben Jille and Ties Van Der Lecq.
In women’s doubles, 2022 All England semi-finalists Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela will face France’s Margot Lambert and Anne Tran in the opening round while Ashwini Bhat K and Shikha Gautam begin their campaign against eighth seeds Pearly Tan and Thinaah Muralitharan of Malaysia.
Two other Indian pairs have been promoted from reserves.
India’s only entry in mixed doubles, Ishaan Bhatnagar and Tanisha Castro will face Netherlands’ Robin Tabeling and Selena Piek.
The first Super 750 event of the year has attracted a total of 242 players from 22 countries with badminton powerhouse China sending the largest contingent comprising 15 male and 15 female players, the organisers said. Japan has entered the second biggest squad of 29 (14 men and 15 women), followed by Indonesia and Malaysia.
India, meanwhile, will be fielding a 19-member contingent.
MS: Kanta Tsuneyama
MD: Jeppe Bay & Lasse Mølhede, M.R. Arjun & Dhruv Kapila
WD: Jaqueline Lima & Samia Lima, Apriyani Rahayu & Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti, Mayu Matsumoto & Wakana Nagahara
The broadcast for the event is on Eurosport India and live streaming will be on JioCinema, from second day (January 18).