Indian badminton may be undergoing a revolution of sorts ever since PV Sindhu won the Olympic silver medal in 2016 but one tournament where shuttlers from the country haven’t been able to make their mark on is the All England Open, which begins in Birmingham on Wednesday.
Only two Indians have ever won the prestigious championship ever since its inception 108 years ago – Prakash Padukone in 1980 and P Gopichand in 2001. In the last 17 years, only one Indian made it even close to Padukone and Gopichand’s feats – Saina Nehwal in 2015 when she reached the final.
Considered the equivalent of winning Wimbledon in tennis, the All England Open has been out of reach for both Sindhu – whose best finish is a quarter-final defeat last year – and K Srikanth, who had a breakthrough season in 2017, winning four Superseries titles. However, Srikanth has never made it past the second round at the All England. Since Nehwal’s silver in 2015, no Indian has made it past the quarter-finals.
The 25-year-old Srikanth, who opens his 2018 All England campaign with a clash against Frenchman Brice Leverdez, said that winning the championship is “sometimes bigger than the Olympics”, which just shows how much the tournament means to Indian shuttlers.
“I would say winning these tournaments, will definitely give the player legendary status,” he was quoted as saying. “Winning the All England has its own aura and once you do that you will join the big names in the history of the sport.”
Nehwal, who came close to winning the title three years ago before being beaten by Carolina Marin, hasn’t given up hopes yet. The 27-year-old holds medals from the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championships, along with a host of Superseries titles, but none of them comes close to getting on the podium at the All England, she said.
“India has won it twice in the past in men’s section, I want it for India in women section,” she said. “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.”
Out of India’s holy trinity of Saina, Sindhu and Srikanth, the former’s record is the best at the All England. In 10 consecutive appearances since 2008, Nehwal has made it to two semi-finals and five quarter-finals apart from the runners-up finish in 2015.
However, Nehwal has a tough task ahead of her if she wants to break the Indian women’s drought at the All England. She is drawn to meet world No 1 and defending champion Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei in the first round.
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, has a better draw compared with her compatriot. The 22-year-old opens her campaign against Thai shuttler Pornpawee Chochuwong but could face her India Open conqueror Beiwen Zhang in the next.
This year, though, there is some extra motivation for the Indian shuttlers to get their hands on an All England gold medal, considering the total cash prize for the tournament has been bumped up to $1 million following the restructuring of the Badminton World Federation calendar.
The All England Open is one of three BWF World Tour Super 1,000 tournaments, which hold the cash prize of $1 million, as against $350,000 last year.