It’s here. For badminton stars around the world, the first steps towards fulfilling the dream of going to Paris to represent their countries at the Olympic Games have been taken. We are officially at the start of the Paris 2024 qualification cycle and after the Sudirman Cup Finals that witnessed very little in terms of upsets from countries outside the favourites, things are beginning to heat up.
First in a series of five consecutive events on the BWF World Tour is the Malaysia Masters, that started in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. The Super 500 event will get underway with qualification rounds and some main draw doubles matches at the Axiata Arena.
From India’s perspective, there are only singles players in action in Kuala Lumpur this week. HS Prannoy, who reached his career-best ranking of world No 7 last week, and PV Sindhu will be hoping to get some crucial points after a tough week in Suzhou for Sudirman Cup Finals.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty were last-minute withdrawals from the men’s doubles main draw, and there is no other doubles presence across the three paired disciplines. Former world No 1 Saina Nehwal also withdrew from the main draw, being replaced by Aakarshi Kashyap.
Prannoy, Srikanth Kidambi and Lakshya Sen are the Indian entrants in the men’s singles main draw. Prannoy starts off with a massive challenge right away, taking on Chou Tien Chen for the second time in two weeks. The Chinese Taipei star, who leads 6-3 on the Head-to-Head, defeated Prannoy in straight games in the Group C match at Sudirman Cup.
Srikanth is in the top quarter of the draw where Viktor Axelsen has withdrawn. But the Indian former No 1 faces two tricky tests to progress. The first-round is against Toma Junior Popov of France and if he prevails, he will take on the winner of Kanta Tsuneyama and Kunlavut Vitidsarn, a cracking first-round match in itself.
Lakshya Sen too has a tough test, starting off once again as he did at the Asia Championships, with a first-round battle against former world champion Loh Kean Yew. Sen leads 4-3 on the H2H against the Singaporean.
In women’s singles, Sindhu has a chance to progress deep, to follow up the good run she had in the Madrid Masters recently. She also displayed flashes of her best at the Sudirman Cup even though she lost two tight matches against Tai Tzu Ying and Goh Jin Wei. The sixth seed will start with a clash against Denmark’s Line Christophersen (a 4-0 H2H for the Indian). A potential second round awaits against Aya Ohori or Lalinrat Chaiwan. Sindhu’s big test at the quarterfinals will likely be from Zhang Yi Man or former world champion Ratchanok Intanon.
On Tuesday, Ashmita Chaliha and Malvika Bansod entered the main draw through qualifiers. Kashyap will make it four Indians in women’s singles, and she starts off with a huge ask against Akane Yamaguchi, the world No 1. Chaliha takes on fourth seed Han Yue, Bansod takes on second seed Wang Zhi Yi.