PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth head a full-strength Indian contingent to the prestigious All England Open, which begins in Birmingham on Wednesday.
No Indian has won the championship since the trio’s mentor P Gopichand did so 17 years ago and will have no dearth of motivation as they aim to win the coveted title. It’s a moment in Indian badminton that has inspired many to take up the game and winning this title is often considered to be the equivalent of winning the Wimbledon in tennis – nothing comes quite close.
Among Indians only Prakash Padukone (1980) and Gopichand (2001) earned their rights to stand on top of the victory podium till date and that is something the current golden generation will look to emulate.
Indian badminton is going through a golden period with a clutch of world class performers in its ranks, courtesy Gopichand.
Among his disciples, London Olympics bronze medallist Nehwal came agonisingly close, losing the final to Carolina Marin in 2015 while Sindhu’s quarter-final finish in 2017 has been her best shot in the Championships so far.
Given the tricky nature of the draw at the $1 million blue-riband event, which boosts of a star-studded field, it will take a consistent top-class performance for successive five days to bag a gold this week and the Indian trio will have their task cut out.
The road ahead for Indians
Sindhu and Srikanth are expected to have easy first-round outings against relatively unheralded opponents but the road is tricky for former finalist Saina Nehwal, who will face none other than world No 1 and defending champion Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei.
Tai Tzu has proved to be Nehwal’s nemesis with an overall 9-5 record against her. The Indian has lost the last seven outings, the most recent being at the Indonesia Masters final early in the year.
Fourth seed Sindhu, on the other hand, would open her campaign against Thai shuttler Pornpawee Chochuwong but could face her India Open conqueror Beiwen Zhang in the next.
Srikanth, meanwhile, seems to have an easy opening round against Frenchman Brice Leverdez – he’d do well to remember the Frenchman shot to limelight at the World Championships by defeating Lee Chong Wei in the first round.
Men’s world No 3 Srikanth enjoyed a fabulous 2017, where he won four Superseries titles and is certainly one of the contenders in the men’s section alongside Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei. Srikanth had crashed out in the opening round last year and would like to turn the tables this time round.
Among others, Singapore Open champion B Sai Praneeth and world no 12 HS Prannoy are the dark horses and can upstage even the best in business on their given day.
While Sai Praneeth will take on former world No 1 Son Wan Ho of Korea – an opponent he has not beaten yet – in the opening round, Prannoy, who recovered from a foot infection a few weeks back, is drawn to take on eighth seed Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei.
Keep an eye out for Satwik-Chirag
In the doubles events, Indonesia Open semi-finalists Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will face Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi of Japan.
If they clear the first hurdle, they are likely to face second seeds Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark in the second round.
Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy will clash with Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge in the opening round, while women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy will face second seeds Japanese combo of Misaki Matsumo and Ayaka Takahashi.
Mixed doubles combo of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Sikki will square off against German pair of Marvin Emil Seidel and Linda Efler.
What they players have said
When Saina was asked about facing world No 1 in the first round, she said: “Tai Tzu has won a number of tournaments last year, so it is not only the Indians who are losing to her. She is the best player right now, she is tricky, she is very focussed but it is not that we can’t beat her.
“We will have to figure out a way to beat her. I think it is a matter of time,” the world No 11 had said recently.
“India has won it twice in the past in men’s section, I want it for India in women section. It will be history to win it for Indian women. I have won in other countries open tournaments but it is grace to win All England, still higher in my mind than other nations.”
For Sindhu, it will be about setting the record straight against Zhang, who beat her at the Indian Open.
“I have six weeks of training under my belt and I hope I do well at All England Championships. There are many tournaments this year, So I just hope that I give my best and play my game,” the Rio Olympic silver medallist said.
The immensely talented Srikanth will like to keep the guard up as the French shuttler has a good defensive game, which enabled him to dispatch former Lee Chong Wei in the first round at last year’s World Championship.
“The All England is one most prestigious events because it has history of 100 years attached to it. Prakash sir and Gopichand sir have done extremely well at the All England. They will always be a source of inspiration for us. I would say winning these tournaments, will definitely give the player legendary status,” said the world nNo 3 Indian.
For Prannoy, though, it’s a case of taking it easy on his body on a comeback from injury.
“I hardly had two weeks of training because of warts in my foot. So not expecting much. I am mentally fresh and I would look to regain my form here,” he said and added:
“The tournament has been great over the years in the stadium and the crowds – especially the British crowd, it’s always jam-packed. In the last few years when I’ve played in England, I’ve always enjoyed it in the arena and I’m really looking forward to it once again... I just want to go out there and enjoy the atmosphere.”— HS Prannoy
The new service rule
“But why start from All England...”
That was the thought on most players’ minds when the BWF introduced the new service rule.
Slammed by most of the top players and coaches, the controversial service rule which says a shuttlecock shall be held less than 1.15 metres (3.8 feet) from a court’s surface before serving will also be tried out at the All England Open.
“If I make a mistake with my serve during the All England, I will ask the umpire the proper way to execute it,” Lee Chong Wei had said recently. The Malaysian, who is 1.72 metres tall, shorter than several other top-ten players, felt the rule should have been tried out at smaller tournaments first.
The Indian shuttlers had some useful sessions with technical official Vemuri Sudha Kar ahead of the tournament to tackle the rule, it would be interesting to see how shuttler world wide deal with it during the week.
No qualifying + increased prize money
The 2018 All England Open will not have a qualifying round and will start with the main draw directly on Wednesday. There will be a total of 155 matches and over 50 hours of live badminton.
The All England Open is also one of only three tournaments in the BWF calendar that is positioned as a Super 1000 event – the highest tier possible outside of the season-ending finale – alongside the Indonesia and China Opens.
Each of the three Super 1000 events now offer a minimum prize money purse of $1 million.