Rarely has an open event in India attracted the kind of attention that this edition of the Open has. By a curious coincidence, the India Open finds itself the focus of the badminton world, for it happens to be the final event for qualifying for the Olympic Games. As the Superseries gets under underway at the Siri Fort Complex here on Tuesday, players, coaches, federations and fans across the world will be tracking the games, for the results will transcend the immediate future.
The India Open has undergone a shift from being a Grand Prix event to an elite Superseries event last year, and with it has come higher profile and global attention. It has helped too that Saina Nehwal has grown to become a top competitor and a kind of spokesperson for the game in this emerging badminton market.
The Indian world No.5 looked relaxed as she posed with admirers at a dinner for all the teams hosted by the organizers. Saina had mentioned earlier that she had lost five kilos in a bid to improve movement around the court, and the effects of that seem dramatic, for she looks even trimmer than she did earlier.
Also looking relaxed was Bangalore girl Ashwini Ponnappa, who will be hoping to qualify for the Olympics with partner Jwala Gutta. “I’m not thinking too much about it,” she said. “There’s no point in continuously worrying about the ranking points, but my dad is constantly checking the ranking lists every week.”
Ashwini has great memories of the venue, where she and Jwala capped an astonishing Commonwealth Games campaign for India with a gold on the final day, which helped the hosts finish second overall. “Yes, it brings back happy memories,” she said. The last few months though haven’t gone to plan, and the Jwala-Ashwini duo have had several early losses. “I don’t know why that’s happening,” said Ashwini. “It’s just a matter of a few points, and we seem to lose points at crucial moments. We’re probably playing loose at those times. It’s not a matter of not having the firepower – in fact, most of the top pairs hardly hit with power; they play cleverly and place the shuttle well. Apart from the Chinese, the others don’t hit that hard.”
Ashwini will be venturing more seriously into the mixed doubles as well, with Tarun Kona. The combination is an interesting one, for Kona is adept at the net and is not known for hammering smashes from the back. Most mixed doubles pairs have the men patrolling the back and the women taking charge at the net, but in this case the roles will be reversed.
A few Indians are in line to qualify. Apart from Saina, the mixed doubles pair of Diju and Jwala have almost certainly sealed their place. Ajay Jayaram holds a slight edge over P Kashyap for the men’s singles slot. Jwala-Ashwini have a shot at qualifying, but Rupesh-Sanave are almost certainly out. Still, with several permutations possible, they’re not completely out of it yet. “I don’t think we’ll make it, but I’m hoping that any withdrawals might help us,” said Sanave.
The India Open this time boasts of a top-line draw. With the exceptions of singles world champions Lin Dan and Wang YIhan, the event sees nearly every other top player, and that will be a feast for any sports fan. What will make it even more special is that this is the last time three contemporary titans will be seen at an event in India, for Peter Gade, Lee Chong Wei and Taufik Hidayat are expected to retire after the Olympics.
But let not the singles stars steal the limelight. There are some great doubles players in action, and they deserve equal attention – like the All England champions Lee Yong Dae and Jung Jae Sung of Korea – and audiences must consider a privilege to watch them up close. That a Superseries is being held in India is much cause to rejoice, along with the fact that a few Indians are expected to qualify for the Olympics.
Players to watch out for:
Men’s Singles: 1-Lee Chong Wei, Peter Gade (Den), 3-Chen Jin (China), Wang Zhengming (China); 7-Taufik Hidayat (Ina); 5-Lee Hyun Il (Kor)
Indian interest: Ajay Jayaram; P Kashyap; Sai Praneeth; Anand Pawar; Sourabh Verma, Sameer Verma; Guru Sai Dutt
Women’s Singles: 1-Wang Shixian (China); 2-Li Xuerui; 4-Jiang Yanjiao, Chen Xiaojia (all China); 3-Saina Nehwal; 5-Tine Baun; 6-Juliane Schenk; Ratchanok Inthanon
Indian interest: Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu
Men’s Doubles: 1-Lee Yong Dae/ Jung Jae Sung (Kor); 3-Chai Biao/ Guo Zhendong (China); 6-Koo Kien Keat/ Tan Boon Heong (Mas); Ko Sung Hyun/ Yoo Yeon Seong (Kor)
Indian interest: Rupesh Kumar/ Sanave Thomas; Pranav Chopra/ Akshay Dewalkar; Tarun Kona/ Arun Vishnu
Women’s Doubles: 1-Ha Jung Eun/ Kim Min Jung (Kor); Bao Yixin/ Zhong Qianxin (China); 3-Miyuki Maeda/ Satoko Suetsuna (Japan); Jwala Gutta/ Ashwini Ponnappa (Ind); Luo Ying/ Luo Yu (China); Vivian Hoo/ Woon Khe Wei (Mas); Wong Pei Ty/ Chin Eei Hui (Mas); 2-Mizuki Fujii/ Reika Kakiiwa (Japan); Birgit Michels/ Sandra Marinello (Ger)
Indian interest: Jwala/ Ashwini; Sikki Reddy/ Aparna Balan; Prajakta Sawant/ Pradnya Gadre
Mixed Doubles: 3-Lee Yong Dae/ Ha Eun Jung (Kor); He Hanbin/ Bao Yixin (China); 2-Tontowi Ahmad/ Lilyana Natsir (Ina); Tao Jiaming/ Xia Huan (China); Chan Peng Soon/ Liu Ying Goh (Mas);
Indian interest: V Diju/ Jwala Gutta; Arun Vishnu/ Aparna Balan; Tarun Kona/ Ashwini Ponnappa