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All England Open: PV Sindhu sets sights on maiden title, Saina Nehwal has tough opener

PV Sindhu has never reached the final at the All England Open.
PV Sindhu has never reached the final at the All England Open.
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 17 Mar 2021
Feature

PV Sindhu will look to taste glory at the prestigious All England Open for the first time as she leads the Indian charge in the 111th edition of the world's oldest badminton tournament.

The year did not start off well for the World No. 7 as she struggled for consistency in Thailand. But the Rio Olympic silver medallist has significantly improved since - something validated by her runner-up showing at the Swiss Open.

Buoyed by her run in Basel, Sindhu will look to bring that confidence into the All England Open after a training stint in Zurich. With the tournament not being a Tokyo Olympic qualifier, the 25-year-old will have much less pressure on her shoulders as she aims to end her title drought this year.

Sindhu has more reason to smile as the dangerous Carolina Marin has pulled out of this Super 1000 event. The Spaniard has won three titles this year and looked deadlier than ever, with her most recent victory coming over Sindhu at the Swiss Open.

With the Rio Olympic champion out of the way, PV Sindhu can now dream of making the All England Open final for the first time. But even before that, the world champion has quite a few tricky opponents to take care of.

Yamaguchi looming for PV Sindhu in All England Open quarters

Can PV Sindhu end her losing streak to Akane Yamaguchi at the All England Open?
Can PV Sindhu end her losing streak to Akane Yamaguchi at the All England Open?

The fifth seed starts off her Birmingham campaign against Malaysia's Soniia Cheah. Things could get interesting in the next round, with former world junior champion Gregoria Mariska Tunjung being in Sindhu's way.

A win over the Indonesian will set Sindhu up against her nemesis and third seed, Akane Yamaguchi, in the quarterfinals. The Japanese may be trailing the Indian 7-10 in their head-to-head record, but she has won their last three meetings.

Sixth seed Pornpawee Chochuwong remains the highest seed in the quarter vacated by Marin. She could next face Sindhu if the Indian ace manages to topple Yamaguchi. Sindhu has beaten Chochuwong as recently as January and shouldn't face much of a hassle while going for an encore.

In the final, second seed Nozomi Okuhara, fourth seed Ratchanok Intanon, or seventh seed Mia Blichfeldtar are likely to stand in Sindhu's way. While the Indian beat Blichfeldt at the Swiss Open, she's traditionally struggled against both Okuhara and Intanon.

Blichfeldt test for Saina in All England Open first round

Saina Nehwal has been a former runner-up at the All England Open.
Saina Nehwal has been a former runner-up at the All England Open.

Meanwhile, 2015 All England Open runner-up Saina Nehwal's prospects do not look too bright. The former World No. 1 has drawn the high-flying Blichfeldt in the first round.

An upset will see her cross swords with familiar foe Intanon in the last-eight. However, knocking out World No. 12 Blichfeldt itself will be an uphill task, considering Nehwal's lack of practice.

The London Olympic bronze medallist hasn't had an ideal preparation ahead of such an important tournament. She took to her social media account to underline the hassles the Indian contingent has been facing in Birmingham as they await their COVID test reports.

Six Indians in men's singles draw at All England Open

Kidambi Srikanth is the only Indian to be seeded in men
Kidambi Srikanth is the only Indian to be seeded in men's singles at the All England Open.

In the men's singles section, former World No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth spearheads the Indian challenge with B. Sai Praneeth, Lakshya Sen, Sameer Verma, Parupalli Kashyap, and HS Prannoy being the others.

Former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Kashyap has drawn none other than the World No. 1 Kento Momota, who returns to action after a one-year gap. After such a long layoff, the Japanese could be rusty, and Kashyap needs to capitalize on his opportunities should Momota falter.

Next in line is HS Prannoy, who will face Momota if he beats Malaysia's Daren Liew in his opener.

Lakshya Sen takes on World No. 18 Kantaphon Wangcharoen in a tough first round, while eighth-seeded Srikanth has Indonesian veteran Tommy Sugiarto up first. The two Indians might come face to face in the quarters if they can overcome their early hurdles.

World Championships bronze medallist Sai Praneeth will kickstart his challenge against Toma Junior Popov, with defending champion Viktor Axelsen lurking in the second round.

Sameer Verma has a relatively easy opener, with World No. 52 Ygor Coelho being his first opponent at the 2021 All England Open.

Satwik-Chirag sixth seeds at All England Open

Satwik and Chirag gunning for revenge at the All England Open.
Satwik and Chirag gunning for revenge at the All England Open.

Swiss Open semi-finalists Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have been seeded sixth for this Super 1000 tournament. The India No. 1 men's doubles pair will need to get into the groove right from the start for the Danish pair of Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, who await them in the second round.

Having lost to the Danes at Basel, Satwik and Chirag will surely be desperate for revenge as they look to continue their good form.

MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila are the other Indian pair in the men's doubles, who start things off against Malaysia's Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi.

Satwik and Ashwini Ponnappa will join forces again in the mixed doubles after making the Toyota Thailand Open semis and the Swiss Open quarters. The World No. 19 combine is likely to meet the fifth seeds Goh Soon Huat and Lai Shevon Jemie in Round 2 of the All England Open.

Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Sikki Reddy take on England's Max Flynn and Jessica Pugh. Meanwhile, Dhruv Kapila and Meghana Jakkampudi find themselves up against top seeds Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti.

In the women's doubles, India will be represented by three teams - Ashwini Ponnappa/Sikki Reddy, Meghana Jakkampudi/Poorvisha S. Ram, and Ashwini Bhat/Shikha Gautam.

Published 17 Mar 2021
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