New Delhi: Late withdrawals would have been the last thing India Open’s organisers prayed for, yet they hope the remaining stars offset their absence once the tournament’s 12th edition begins on Tuesday.
Shi Yuqi and Chen Yufei, top seeds in men’s and women’s sections respectively, have pulled out on medical grounds. China’s Chen, having won the All England Championship defeating legend Lin Dan, was the in-form guy while her compatriot Shi Yuqi is the defending champion. Japanese players are also not participating in the $350,000 World Tour Super 500 competition.
To top it off, Saina Nehwal’s omission, due to a stomach complaint, robbed the tourney of some of its nationalistic flavour.
But the field isn’t completely barren, World No. 4 and top seed Viktor Axelsen, beaten finalist at All England, being the men’s section’s star attraction.
India’s leading men’s players, Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma and B. Sai Praneeth, would all fancy their chances in an apparently diminished competition. So would World No. 6 and top seed P.V. Sindhu, who has endured an indifferent start in 2019 following her triumph at the year-ending BWF Super Series Finals in Dubai last year.
By their own admissions, she and Srikanth have struggled to perform consistently and are striving for it more than improving technically or physically. Injuries haven’t helped Srikanth’s cause either. “Had too many injuries in 2017 and 2018,” Srikanth said.
A win here along with favourable results in Malaysia and Singapore, in tournaments succeeding India Open, would boost their confidence before the beginning of Tokyo Olympic’s qualifiers.
“I didnt start the year well. After going out in the first round at All England, I have prepared well for this tournament. I am focussed on reducing small technical errors that have let me down in big matches,” Sindhu said on Monday.
“I am working on being consistent. Losing at the quarter-final stage in recent competitions have been frustrating,” World No.7 Srikanth added, who has gone 17 months without a title now.
Sindhu faces compatriot Mugdha Agrey in the first round. Vrushali Gummadi and Sai Uttejitha Rao Chukka are the other Indians in women’s singles. Srikanth is up against Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent. Sameer Verma begins against Denmark’s Rasmus Gemke. H.S. Prannoy, Subhankar Dey, Ajay Jayaram and Parupalli Kashyap are on the other half of the draw.
Exalted expectations might be a hindrance for the big-named Indian players, particularly infront of a bigger home crowd at a new venue, but Sindhu insisted it was a “good sign” and one has to take it “positively”.
“Playing at a new venue (Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium instead of the Siri Fort Complex) will hit the players. They will get a different feel and vibe, But they have to adjust to it,” Sindhu pointed out.
“Indians won’t get any on-court advantage at the new venue,” conceded Srikanth, who revealed that it was the first time he practiced at IGI’s indoor courts on Monday.
Guys, we have arrived here at the @LeMeridien for today’s press conference! The players and the dignitaries will be walking in shortly. Let’s quickly take you to where it’s happening! #IndiaontheRise #badminton #BestofBadminton pic.twitter.com/qxBinbDlPm
— BAI Media (@BAI_Media) March 25, 2019
With the 2020 Olympics not too far away, all 292 shuttlers participating would be keen to build up momentum in their push to confirm qualification for the quadrennial marquee event.
With the inevitable gradual fading of men’s badminton’s dominating duo Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, Denmark’s Axelsen, Japan’s Kento Momota, Srikanth and China’s Chen Long and Shi Yuqi all are in the race to become the next undisputed leader.
At a new venue, the India Open might just throw up a new name in the mix.