The BWF World Tour 2020 returns to action with another Super 300 event – the BWF Barcelona Spain Masters. Unfortunately, due to this tournament coming just a day after the conclusion of Asian and European Team Championships, there aren’t too many big names in the draw. But those there are, have a lot to play for.
With the China Open postponed indefinitely due to the outbreak of Corona Virus in China, this tournament now becomes all the more relevant. With the Olympics getting closer by the day, every player and doubles team need to up their game and find their form.
Let’s gear up for this event, one of the few on European soil by looking closely at five players who would be in focus. These players would desperately need to get some victories under their belt and build a momentum going ahead into the season.
Both her on-court performances and off-court actions suggest that Saina Nehwal’s career is coming to an end. Her marriage in 2018 to Parupalli Kashyap may not have meant anything significant regarding her future. But the decision to join to dip her toe into the political pond seems like of sign that she is looking beyond her sporting career.
As far as her Olympic qualification chances are concerned, they are slim and becoming even slimmer. Currently, she is not among the top 38 players in the qualification standings, which means she may not be eligible for playing in the Olympics.
The cut-off date for accumulating qualification points is April 26 and if her present form continues, she is unlikely to make the cut. However, this tournament gives her another opportunity. Seeded fifth, if she can have a good run in this event, that may bring her form back and allow her to sneak into the top-38 just in time.
Needless to say, her performance would be the most important thing to watch out for as far as the Indian fans are concerned.
The former World Champion Dane enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed, something he hasn’t been used to in the last few months. After a splendid 2017 which saw him emerge as the world’s best in his category, his form withered away in 2018.
Last year was up and down and he was very inconsistent. Axelsen is clearly the favourite to win this tournament but he will have to do it in a comprehensive manner. His real challengers like Kento Momota and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting are not around. So, it won’t be as good a test for him as he would want.
Still, just for getting a title under his belt, Axelsen needs to get going and stamp his authority in this event. Another player whose efforts would be watched closely.
Do we even need to say it? This is the home court of the Spanish badminton queen and she would be as keen to show her superiority over others as anyone else. Also, being the top seed, she has to win this tournament and, in the absence of major rivals, do it with style.
This year hasn’t gone as per expectations for Marin. She lost in the semi-finals of the last BWF World Tour event – Thailand Masters – to Akane Yamaguchi and even before that, hasn’t been able to deliver her best.
But she is a player who is at her best when she is energetic, fast, and pumped up. With the crowd cheering for her, Marin is likely to be all that in Barcelona. So, watch out for her. When she is at her best, there is no more enthralling player to watch on a badminton court.
B Sai Praneeth
In the last year or so, among the five top Indian men’s singles players, B Sai Praneeth has emerged as the leading contender for winning titles. He goes into this event seeded second as a result. Interestingly, he faces Sameer Verma in the first round and could face the latter’s brother in the second.
Then, there is the possibility of coming up against Kidambi Srikanth in the latter stages. Now, it would be a bit outlandish to expect a medal from him or any other Indian men’s singles player at the Olympics. But stranger things have happened.
In the current Olympic qualification standings, Praneeth and Srikanth are both in top-16. So, both are likely to qualify. But they need to avoid any last minute hiccups. Hence, this tournament is important for both of them.
Yes, arguably, the greatest player of all time is under the scanner also. He is going into this tournament seeded sixth, despite the absence of any other major player barring Axelsen. The five-time World Champion and two-time Olympic Champion is in serious danger of not qualifying for the Olympics.
Since any nation can only send two players in a category, it’s very likely that defending champion Chen Long and Shi Yuqi will be the representatives of China. On top of that, Lin Dan isn’t even among the top-38 players in the qualification standings.
So, he is a Lion in Winter still trying to hold on to his territory. Is there a last hurrah left in him? Let’s see!Published 18 Feb 2020, 00:16 IST