All England Open 2018: Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu have bright prospects, Saina Nehwal faces stern test
Amidst the controversy over the new service rule implemented by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), the prestigious All England Open is all set to start at Birmingham on March 14. The rule, which states that the shuttle cannot exceed a height of 1.15m from the surface of the court at the time of serving, has already met with widespread criticism as players struggled to adapt to the system at last week’s German Open.
Without a doubt, it will heighten the challenge for the Indian shuttlers as they set their sights on conquering the world’s oldest badminton tournament. No Indian has succeeded in lifting the trophy since Pullela Gopichand did it 17 years ago.
Saina Nehwal raised hopes of becoming the third Indian to emulate the feat of her then-former mentor and Prakash Padukone when she mounted on a giant-killing run to the final in 2015. But Carolina Marin dashed all those dreams by getting the better of the Indian in three games.
Three years on, the former finalist has the toughest job out of all the Indians. Pitted against the top seed and World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying in the opening round, the erstwhile No. 1 would have to be at her flawless best against a player, whom she trails 5-9 in their head-to-head meetings.
Sindhu should progress deep
Her compatriot, PV Sindhu has a relatively easier task at hand. Seeded fourth, the Rio Olympic silver medallist has a draw that should allow the 22-year-old to progress deeper. She begins her campaign against the former World Junior Championships silver medallist Pornpawee Chochuwong on beating whom, a grudge match against Beiwen Zhang awaits.
The American beat her in a close final at the India Open last month and Sindhu would be upbeat to reverse the result this time. World champion Nozomi Okuhara then presents a tricky challenge, although it is fair to say that the Japanese is still coming back from a knee injury and hasn’t reached her best yet.
The semi-finals get even more interesting as one between the second seed Akane Yamaguchi and the former champion Marin looks likely to be her opponent. And that could be quite a stern test for Sindhu.
That said, the India No. 1, who has made it a habit of reaching the elite finals in her sport, hasn’t ever been to the summit clash in Birmingham and that itself could be a big source of motivation for her.
Srikanth has the best draw out of all the Indians
For Kidambi Srikanth, the All England Open will present him myriad opportunities to hog the headlines. If Srikanth brings his swashbuckling 2017 form, he can pretty much surmount all the dangers lurking in his draw.
With the top seed Viktor Axelsen pulling out of the tournament due to an ankle surgery, it not only makes his chances of winning the title even brighter, but it also pushes him closer to the highly-coveted World No. 1 ranking. The Pullela Gopichand protégé actually has a chance of rising to the pinnacle if he can lay his hands on the trophy.
In the first round, he faces the 23rd ranked Brice Leverdez, who has a penchant for causing upsets. Former Commonwealth Games silver medallist Rajiv Ouseph -- Srikanth’s second round opponent -- is another such customer, who is adept at creating a stir.
Eighth seeded Chou Tien Chen should ideally be the first real worry for the World No. 3. The Chinese Taipei ace beat him the last two times and Srikanth cannot afford to make any mistake against him.
One of the two legends -- Lee Chong Wei or Lin Dan -- should be up next for Srikanth. Both have been inconsistent in the twilight of their careers and Srikanth can fancy his chances. Fourth seed Chen Long or fifth seed Son Wan Ho should cross swords with the Indian in the final.
The path is more obstacle-filled for the other two Indians in the men’s singles draw. Singapore Open Superseries winner B Sai Praneeth has Son Wan Ho, a player he has never taken a game off in three clashes so far.
National champion HS Prannoy returns to action after removing warts from his feet that derailed him at the India Open and subsequently sidelined him for some time. Prannoy has admittedly not regained his 100% fitness but one can never count him out. The Kerala shuttler takes on Chou Tien Chen in his opener.
Can Satwik and Chirag bring their fearless attitude?
In men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will look to bring their fearless attitude and confidence against the Japanese combine of Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi. A win there will set them up for a sizzling second round showdown with the second seeds Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen. Each of their past two meetings has gone the distance, with the Danes winning in the end.
Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy meet the English pair of Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge.
N Sikki Reddy, who has been the most vocal about the BWF’s new service rule, has a tough opener in women’s doubles. She and Ashwini Ponnappa face the second seeds Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi. In mixed doubles, Reddy and Pranaav Jerry Chopra will clash with Germany’s Marvin Emil Seidel and Linda Efler.
The women’s doubles pair of Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram too doesn’t have it easy as the Indians have been drawn against the fifth seeds Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto.