French Open Badminton: Saina Nehwal hopes to continue momentum; PV Sindhu to make amends
The French Open Super 750 tournament, beginning from October 23 in Paris, will be crucial for India’s top shuttle queen PV Sindhu as she hopes to rebound from a first-round defeat at last week’s Denmark Open. While Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth made it to the final and semi-finals respectively, Sindhu’s early loss was a blot on an otherwise sparkling show by Indian badminton in Odense.
Exactly a week after crashing out of the Denmark Open, the Rio Olympic silver medallist gets an opportunity to avenge her Odense defeat for she faces the same opponent who stopped her seven days back -- Beiwen Zhang.
However, the job won’t be easy for the third seed. The World No. 11 has always proved to be a tough customer for Sindhu to handle. Each of their five meetings so far has gone the distance, proving the American has the ability to suffocate Sindhu’s natural play.
While Sindhu won their first two career showdowns, Zhang grabbed the win in the last three, two of which happened this year. This would thus be a stern test of Sindhu’s hunger, desire as well as her fitness against an opponent she hasn’t had many answers to of late.
If she does manage to overcome the first hurdle, seventh seed He Bingjiao could meet her in the quarter-finals, which could be followed by a clash with the second-seeded Akane Yamaguchi a round later.
Saina Nehwal has been placed in the top half of the draw, which has put her in the path of top seed and Denmark Open champion Tai Tzu Ying as early as the quarter-finals. But before that happens, Saina has to take care of the eighth seed and former world champion Nozomi Okuhara in the second round.
Nehwal did get the better of the feisty Japanese in the quarter-finals in Denmark. Whether it will inspire the Denmark Open runner-up to produce a repeat of that result or the loss will motivate the Japanese to get a win over the former World No. 1, remains to be seen.
Saina’s campaign starts against the 37th ranked Japanese Saena Kawakami in what will be their first-ever meeting on the BWF World Tour.
Tough draw for Srikanth; hopes bright for Sameer
In men’s singles, India will be represented by the trio of Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma, and B Sai Praneeth. Defending champion Srikanth is seeded fifth in Paris and faces World No. 22 Wong Wing Ki Vincent in the first round. Srikanth has a 6-3 record over the Hong Kong shuttler, which makes the Indian favourite for the win, especially after the resurgence he displayed in Odense last week.
While that could be an easy opener for the start of his title defence, Srikanth will get some tougher battles as the tournament progresses. In the next round, he could square off against Lee Dong Keun, who has a 2-0 head-to-head record over Srikanth.
The Korean ended the run of the Pullela Gopichand protégé at the Japan Open in September, where the Indian was expected to come through. And the path gets even rockier for the India No. 1 men’s singles shuttler as World No. 1 and world champion Kento Momota awaits.
The Japanese has got Srikanth’s number as many as four times this year, with their latest meeting coming in Odense in the semi-finals.
Sameer Verma, who lost to Srikanth in a thriller last week, takes on the Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie. On winning that match, he could lock horns with the winner of the opener between Sai Praneeth and World No. 38 Ygor Coelho. With the kind of form Sameer has shown in the past few months, he has a realistic chance of making it through to the quarter-finals.
India has three pairs in men’s doubles -- Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy, and Arjun MR-Shlok Ramchandran. Arjun and Shlok are coming into this tournament fresh from a title win at the Hellas Open, an International Series-level event.
However, that would matter little as they have the most difficult draw out of the three Indian teams, being drawn against the second seeds Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen.
In women’s doubles, India has a sole representation in the form of Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram as Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy are not participating due to Reddy’s unavailability.
Ponnappa will, however, be seen in action in mixed doubles. The World Championships quarter-finalist duo of Ponnappa and Rankireddy will take on Chris and Gabrielle Adcock in the first round. Rohan Kapoor and Kuhoo Garg are the other Indian pair in this section and they have their task cut out for they face the top seeds Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong, who won the Denmark Open.