Reigning world champion PV Sindhu will be eager to return to the podium while former winner Saina Nehwal seeks a return to form in the official season-opening event — Swiss Open Super 300 tournament — beginning on Tuesday.
Indian men’s singles players, too, have tasted success in this tournament with Sameer Verma, HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth emerging victorious in 2018, 2016 and 2015 respectively and B Sai Praneeth finishing runners-up in the last edition.
All four will be looking to relive the moments and extend India’s good run at the $140,000 event which will also resume the extended Olympic qualifying period. This phase will run till 13 June 2021 and finish with Singapore Open, with the final rankings published on June 15 to be used for deciding quota places.
The guidelines for Tokyo Games qualification for badminton is available here.
Where select Indians stand in Road to Tokyo
|Athlete(s)||Position in Tokyo Games race||Status as of 1st Qual phase|
|PV Sindhu||No 7||Set to qualify as best-ranked Indian women's singles shuttler|
|B Sai Praneeth||No 13||Set to qualify as best-ranked Indian men's singles shuttler|
|Satwiksairaj / Chirag Shetty||No 10||Set to qualify as best-ranked Indian men's doubles shuttlers|
|K Srikanth||No 22||Needs to reach top 16 overall to earn quota|
|Lakshya Sen||No 25||Needs to reach top 16 overall (and overtake Srikanth) to earn quota|
|Saina Nehwal||No 22||Needs to reach top 16 overall to earn quota|
Back in Basel
The venue holds a special place in the career of Sindhu and for Indian badminton. It was at St. Jakobshalle in Basel that the Olympic silver medallist had claimed the world championship gold in 2019 — in sensational style — which was incidentally her last title before the Covid-19 pandemic disruption.
The 25-year-old from Hyderabad, seeded second, will look to go the distance again as she opens her campaign against Turkey’s Neslihan Yigit.
Sindhu, speaking to the Olympic Channel, said that she did not have a good outing in the three events in Thailand recently but her focus is now on bouncing back strong and correcting her mistakes. Having recently made the decision to move to Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad to aid with Tokyo 2020 preparations, Sindhu could use a confidence-boosting run to the podium in Basel.
The road to the quarterfinal here looks smooth for the Indian where she is likely to confront fifth seed Thai Busanan Ongbamrungphan, an opponent she had beaten at the Toyota Thailand Open in January.
The favourite in the women’s singles draw has to be Carolina Marin, the top seed at the event. She began the calendar year with a bang, as she reached the final in all three events in Bangkok, winning two of those by defeating Tai Tzu Ying. Should seedings hold, the final could be a rematch of the 2016 Olympics final between the Spaniard and Indian.
Two-time former winner Nehwal, too, is in the same half but the senior pro will have to overcome players like Korea’s sixth seed Sung Ji Hyun and fourth-seeded Danish Mia Blichfeldt – whom she is likely to meet in the second round – to set up a semifinal face-off with Sindhu.
Former world No 1 Nehwal, who turns 31 this month, is at the fag end of an illustrious career, having slipped to 19 in the BWF rankings but she still has an outside chance to make it to another Olympics.
Race to Tokyo badminton rankings available here.
The London bronze medallist will hope to make a positive start when she opens against Thailand’s Phittayaporn Chaiwan, a former world junior championships bronze medallist.
All eyes will also be on world No 10 men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty after their semifinal finish at Toyota Thailand Open.
The Indian pair, seeded second, would look to stretch its good run, especially after a month-long training session under new doubles coach Mathias Boe of Denmark.
The Indian duo will face Scotland’s Christopher Grimley and Matthew Grimley in the opening round.
Expectations will be high from Satwik and Ashwini Ponnappa as well after their last-four finish at the previous event. But it will be an uphill climb for the duo as they face second seeds Indonesians Hafiz Faizal and Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja first up.
In the men’s singles, it will be an all-Indian show when Sameer takes on former world No 1 and fourth seed Kidambi Srikanth in the opening round.
While Sameer looked good at Toyota Thailand Open, Srikanth too seemed to have found his rhythm at the World Tour Finals in January. Srikanth will run into outright favourite Viktor Axelsen in the semi-finals, should the two seeded players hold their superiority in the previous rounds.
Former world No 8 HS Prannoy will open against Mark Calijouw of the Netherlands, while Sourabh Verma takes on Switzerland’s Christian Kirchmayr.
Ajay Jayaram will meet Thailand’s Sitthikom Thammasin and Parupalli Kashyap will square off against Spain’s Pablo Abian.
Olympic hopeful Praneeth, who was forced to withdraw from the last event in Thailand after returning positive for Covid-19, will hope to shine when he clashes with Israel’s Misha Zilberman.
Young Lakshya Sen, who missed the Thailand events due to an injury, too will be rearing to go when he opens against Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk.
Among other Indians in the fray, Pranaav Jerry Chopra, who had tested positive for Covid late last year, will be back in action after a long hiatus when he pairs up with N Sikki Reddy and takes on third-seeded English pair of Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith in the mixed doubles.
Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa have not the best of run on tour in the recent past but they will start off with a relatively winnable fixture against unseeded Germans Annabella Jaeger and Stine Kuspert.
Young men’s doubles pair of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila too will look to put up a show when the Indians face Russia’s seventh seeds Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov. Arjun and Kapila impressed in their outings in Bangkok.
The Super 300 event will be crucial for the Olympic hopefuls with the BWF extending the qualification period for the Tokyo Games till June 15 and a Super 300 event will be the ideal way to kickstart proceedings once again as the Olympics draw closer.
With PTI inputs
Full list of Indian shuttlers in action here.