The All England Open badminton championship continues to be the most coveted trophy for the Indian shuttlers since the legendary Prakash Padukone claimed the title in 1980. Since then, the title has come home just once more and every new edition brings hope of another success at Arena Birmingham.

But the primary focus of 2020’s first Super 1000 event that begins on Wednesday for most of the Indian squad members would be to register those valuable wins in the preliminary rounds; try and go as deep as possible in the draw before evening thinking of the podium.

The likes of Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, P Kashyap and Lakshya Sen are still chasing an Olympic qualification spot and with the $1,100,000 prize money meet offering the highest points bracket on the BWF World Tour, every victory should take them closer to their aim of breaking into the top-16 in the Race to Tokyo rankings before the end of the qualification period.

And the importance of these points have only increased due to the uncertainty over many other qualification tournaments following the coronavirus outbreak across the globe. The German Open Super 300 event has been cancelled and there is still no clarity on how many events will be affected in the Asian circuit.

Seven Indian players have already withdrawn from All England due to the virus scare with the men’s doubles combination of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy all but assured of an Olympic berth and the others fast dropping out of the Race to Tokyo.

World Champion PV Sindhu does not have to bother too much about the Olympics qualification campaign but will be keen to add the All England crown to her trophy cabinet.

The world no 6 will kick off her campaign against a familiar foe in USA’s Beiwen Zhang and is expected to take on Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun in the second round. If the 24-year-old manages to cross the initial round hurdles she will be definitely be a contender for the trophy.

Among the Olympics hopefuls, Nehwal and Srikanth have been handed a difficult draw as they face tough opponents in the opening round.

Nehwal, who had made it to the finals in 2015, is in dire need of some ranking points to qualify for the Olympics and she will face a stern test against third seeded Japanese Akane Yamaguchi in the opening round. The London 2012 medallist is currently 22nd in the Race to Tokyo 2020 rankings and outside qualification positions.

Former world No. 1 Srikanth, who had reached the quarters in 2019, will have to get across Olympic champion and third seed Chen Long to have any chance of going deep in the draw and retain his ranking points.

World championships bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth, who is also almost assured of a berth at Tokyo, will open against China’s Zhao Jun Peng. He is the top-ranked Indian in the Race to Tokyo 2020 placings at 11 followed by Srikanth at 21st.

Former Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap, who is recovering from a back injury at Spain Masters last month, will be up against Indonesia’s Shesar Hiren Rhustavito in the opener.

Young Lakshya Sen, who had claimed five titles last year, will be making his debut in the prestigious tournament and he will begin against Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu. Sen is currently 31st in the Olympic race and if he could leapfrog his compatriots with a couple of wins, he could emerge as a dark horse in the race to reach Olympics.

In doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and N Siki Reddy will face Australian pair of Setyana Mapasa and Gronya Somerville in women’s doubles, while Sikki will pair up with Pranaav Jerry Chopra to take on top seeded Chinese Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong.

Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen and China’s Chen Yufei start as the top seeds in the men’s and women’s singles categories. Respective second seeds Viktor Axelsen and Tai Tzu Ying are also favourites to go the distance in Birmingham. Kento Momota, who was earlier expected to make a comeback at this event from injuries suffered in car accident, continues to remain sidelined.

(With PTI inputs)