Sindhu, Saina aim to break an 18-year-old jinx

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Sameer to start against former world champion Axelsen

A challenging draw stands in the way but India’s top shuttlers P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal will nonetheless fancy their chances of ending a nearly two-decade old title jinx at the All England badminton Championships, starting on Wednesday.

Sindhu and Saina’s mentor and current chief national coach P. Gopichand was the last Indian to win the championship, way back in 2001.

Only the top-32 in the BWF rankings qualify for the tournament and out of them, only three Indians have been seeded — the other being K. Srikanth (seventh) in the men’s event.

Fifth seed Sindhu will square off against former World No. 2 Sung Ji Hyun of South Korea at the $1 million event while Saina, seeded eighth, will start her campaign against Scotland’s Kristy Gilmour.

They have had contrasting results against their first-round opponents. While Saina enjoys a 6-0 overall record against Gilmour, Sindhu has been troubled by Sung Ji, but leads 8-6 in their previous 14 meetings.

Sung Ji defeated Sindhu twice in three meetings last year and if the Indian can put it past the Korean, she will run into either Russia’s Evgeniya Kosetskaya or Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi in the second round. A favourable result will then pit Sindhu against third-seeded Chinese youngster, Chen Yufei, in the quarterfinals.

On the other hand, Saina remains the only Indian to come close to winning the title, finishing runner-up in 2015.

Good start

The seasoned shuttler enjoyed a good start to the year, winning the Indonesia Masters in January and getting the better of Sindhu in the National final.

Saina, who turns 29 on March 17, will face either Denmark’s Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt or China’s Cai Yanyan if she happens to win the first round. The experienced Indian is expected to cross at least the second round and is likely to face her nemesis Tai Tzu Ying, against whom she has lost 12 consecutive times.

In the men’s event, Srikanth will take on Frenchman Brice Leverdez in the opening round while an in-form Sameer Verma will start against former world champion and world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.

Among others, B. Sai Praneeth and H.S. Prannoy will play each other in the opening round.

Gopichand has pinned his hopes on Saina, Sindhu and Srikanth. He feels the trio has what it takes to end the country’s long wait for the trophy.

“We have had good performances from Saina, Sindhu and Srikanth has also been in good form. I do expect that we will have a good performance at this year’s All-England,” Gopichand had said last month.

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