Saina Nehwal pulls out of the country’s blue-riband tournament after failing to recover from acute gastroenteritis.
A new venue, a strong Chinese presence and the uninspiring recent showings of P. V. Sindhu and K. Srikanth presents an unclear picture in the minds of country’s badminton fans on the eve of the Indian Open here.
When the action commences with the qualifying rounds on Tuesday, there are no overwhelming favourites in the singles draw, hit by the withdrawal of the Chinese top seeds – Shi Yuqi and Chen Yufei.
Given the draw, Sindhu should ease into the semifinals without being really challenged, provided the second seed plays to her potential. There have been many occasions last year when she lost to lesser-ranked players by not being able to reproduce her ‘A’ game.
With Saina Nehwal deciding to skip the event to recover from a bout of acute gastro-enteritis, there is no other woman player in the field to give the home fans anything to cheer about.
Srikanth, looking to regain his fitness of old, has looked a pale shadow of the man who won four titles in 2017. He has never looked the same player, with his strokes lacking the sting and anticipation leaving much to be desired.
Srikanth’s rival in the pre-quarterfinals will be a Chinese, either Lu Guangzu or Zhao Jungpeng. Guangzu and Jungpeng are ranked fourth and sixth in China.
Sai Praneeth, on a high following his recent conquest of Chen Long, and fifth seed Sameer Verma are drawn to meet in the pre-quarterfinals, thereby ensuring an Indian in the last-eight stage.
Among the other overseas challengers, the 2017 World champion Viktor Axelsen could well be the man to beat. Runner-up in All England earlier this month, Axelsen is looking good to retain his form of old. He could well run into compatriot Jan O Jorgensen for a place in the semifinals.
In the ladies section, third seeded Chinese He Bingjiao, potentially the semifinal rival of Sindhu, former World champion and fourth seeded Thai Intanon Ratchanok, the 2012 Olympic champion on a comeback trail Li Xuerui and last year’s surprise winner Beiwen Zhang, seeded six, are the ones to watch out for.
In all, the presence of a large Chinese contingent across all five categories is a reflection of the country’s priority on gaining maximum points aimed at qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games.
It could get tougher for some accomplished names against the far lesser-known Chinese rivals this week. For the Indians, it will be their first experience of playing in the large, main hall of the IG Stadium, thereby ruling out any “on-court home advantage.”