One of the tournaments that received a promotion in the BWF World Tour, Singapore Open begins on Tuesday. The event that was a Super 500 last year, will be a Super 750 this time around and it comes smack dab in the middle of a busy Asian swing of events with points at stake for Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualification.
For Indians, the headliners this week will be defending champion PV Sindhu and the most recent champion on the BWF World Tour in HS Prannoy.
Back in July 2022, the Singapore Open marked a crucial point in Sindhu’s journey alongside Coach Park Tae Sang. The Korean had said at the start of the season that he would like to see Sindhu win more titles on the tour instead of her usual pattern of saving her best for the big events. And in that quest, the Singapore title (her first Super 500 in the BWF Tour) felt pivotal. Then came the Commonwealth Games, where she played through the pain in her ankle to clinch a gold medal that had eluded her over the years... but at the cost of a fracture that kept her out of action for the rest of the year.
In some ways, Sindhu went from arguably having her best season on the badminton circuit (just in terms of consistency) to going through rehab for one of the more serious injuries in her career. Now ahead of this year’s Singapore Open, she faces a tough quest in the midst of indifferent form.
Her semifinal run at Malaysia Masters was another positive step, but a disappointing first-round defeat at Thailand Open last week, has left us with more questions than answers around the double Olympic medallist. Sindhu and her team are yet to appoint a coach since parting ways with Park earlier this year. And one year later, she enters the tournament unseeded, as the world No 13, and facing a huge first-round test against world No 1 Akane Yamaguchi.
Sindhu has points to defend in Singapore but her form doesn’t augur too well and the tough draw only makes it a little bit more precarious. However, on the flip side, she does have a good record against Yamaguchi, leading 14-9 in their Head-to-Head. The last four meetings are also split 2-2, and even one of those defeats, Sindhu might still a bit aggrieved about - the controversial Asian Championships semifinal.
Sindhu’s game matches up well against Yamaguchi, and if she is able to hit through the lines nice and early, a win for the Indian is not out of the question. But Yamaguchi too is a craftier player these days and will know that Sindhu’s defence is not as great as it was a year back, and that the drop shots to the front court trouble the Indian far more now. Should Sindhu prevail in this tough test, she would face the winner of Kristy Gilmour and Michelle Li, the latter having defeated the Indian last week in Thailand.
Sindhu is in the same quarter as former world champion Ratchanok Intanon, with the Thai star starting off against Saina Nehwal. That is another battle where Nehwal has the H2H edge (12-7) but form-book suggests Intanon is the strong favourite.
Aakarshi Kashyap is in the main draw too, having replaced Thailand’s Lalinrat Chaiwan and the Indian will face the explosive Supanida Katethong.
HS Prannoy back in action
In the men’s singles draw, all eyes for the Indian contingent will be on HS Prannoy who returns to action after skipping the Thailand Open (pre-decided). His Malaysia Masters triumph the week before was one to savour, and he had to dig in deep for four really tough matches over the week.
Prannoy starts off this week with another potentially energy-sapping encounter against third seed Kodai Naraoka, who is making a reputation for himself by playing out marathon matches. The Indian, who is back up to No 8 in the world, will need to hit the ground running right away. Naraoka leads the H2H 3-0.
In the top quarter of the draw, Viktor Axelsen once again remains absent due to the injury he picked up at Sudirman Cup. And that means a chance for one of Srikanth Kidambi or Lakshya Sen to make a deeper run. World No 29 Kantaphon Wangcharoen is Srikanth’s first-round opponent, and the Indian leads 2-1.
For Sen, on the back of a superb week in Thailand that ended in the semifinals, another massive first-round test await in the form of world No 7 Chou Tien Chen. The CWG 2022 singles champion trails 1-2 on the H2H but won their last meeting at the All England Championships earlier this year, putting up one of his best performances of the year even though he was unwell that week.
The fourth Indian in the men’s singles main draw is Orleans Masters winner Priyanshu Rajawat who will face Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama.
In men’s doubles, world number 4 Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will look to bounce back from a less than ideal outing at the Thailand Open last week. The Indian duo will start their campaign against Japan’s Akira Koga and Taichi Saito, a tricky yet winnable test against the world No 24 pair. They are, however in the same quarter as the Minions (Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo) who have never lost to the Indians and former world champions Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi.
Also in the men’s doubles main draw are MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, who start off against the French duo of Lucas Corvee and Ronan Labar.
After a break post Sudirman Cup, the exciting women’s doubles combination of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand are back on tour. They will hope to get some crucial Olympic qualification points as they face world No 28 Hong Kong’s Yeung Nga Ting and Yeung Pui Lam in the opening round. But a massive test awaits them next up should they win, as they will likely take on one of the in-form pairs in the world in Korea’s Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee.
Once again, there is no Indian interest in the mixed doubles main draw.