Stern test for Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth at Badminton Asia Championships; PV Sindhu has it easier
The Indian badminton contingent has hardly got any time to bask in the glory of their multiple medal-haul at the Commonwealth Games for they have a tough challenge coming up pretty soon. The brutal schedule has already presented Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy their next goal -- winning the Badminton Asia Championships, that begins in Wuhan, China on April 24.
The top Indian quartet does not begin their campaign before April 25 as the group matches will be staged on the first day of the competition. Having that one extra day to focus and acclimatize to the conditions is crucial in this case, for the tournament will have the crème de la crème of Asia.
Needless to say, the quality of opposition will be much higher here for Nehwal & Co. than what it was at Gold Coast. Besides, there will be an increased pressure on the shoulders of the four Indian stars as neither of them has managed to taste success at this prestigious tournament.
In an event, where the best of Asia will be hungry to assert their supremacy and grab the whopping 9200 points on offer, they will undoubtedly have their task cut out.
Okuhara test for Nehwal
Right after capturing the Commonwealth Games gold for the second time, Nehwal will have to bring forth all that aggression and determination because an opponent as formidable as Nozomi Okuhara waits for her in the second round. The world champion will look to impose her defensive game and that can spell trouble for the two-time bronze medallist Indian, who got no time to rest after her Gold Coast exploits.
If she can still pull off the big win, the path only gets steeper with former champions Ratchanok Intanon and Tai Tzu Ying lurking in her half of the draw.
Relatively easier draw for Sindhu
The third seeded Sindhu has it slightly easier. After her first round against Yu Po Pai, the 2014 bronze medallist is likely to be up against Chen Xiaoxin of China. From the quarter-finals, she will have her hands full for the seventh seed and former champion Sung Ji Hyun will be there. While Sindhu leads their head-to-head meetings 7-4, it should be noted that five of those clashes have gone the distance.
Sixth seeded Chen Yufei, who has proved to be China’s next big star, should be Sindhu’s potential semi-final opponent. The 19-year-old did, after all, manage to beat the lanky Indian twice last year and Sindhu needs to ensure that she does not concede too many points through unforced errors.
With defending champion Tai -- a player the Indian has lost to for the last four times -- being the top seed, it is not difficult to understand how much of an effort Sindhu has to produce in order to win the title for the first time.
Srikanth and Lee Chong Wei could meet again
The men’s singles draw is headed by Kidambi Srikanth but his top billing does not give him any leverage for there lurks in his quarter a certain Lee Chong Wei. The Malaysian, a two-time winner of this event, can lock horns with Srikanth for the third time in less than a month. They split their two meetings at the Commonwealth Games and it will be interesting to see how their bodies respond after their monumental efforts in Australia.
But even before Srikanth can prepare for that battle, he has to take care of Kenta Nishimoto in the first round and then the dangerous Wong Wing ki Vincent, who has two wins over him in six meetings.
It does not get any better for the Indian even if he manages to stop the former World No. 1 and make it to the semi-finals. He could face either the newly-crowned All England Open champion Shi Yuqi or the seventh seed Chou Tien Chen or the returning Kento Momota.
Barring Shi Yuqi, each of the other two has a winning head-to-head record over the former World No. 1 shuttler. Even the Chinese cannot be taken lightly for he will definitely try to ride on the confidence that he gained from triumphing in Birmingham.
Second seeded Son Wan Ho, third seeded Chen Long and the sixth seeded Lin Dan are all packed in the bottom half of the draw and could be one of Srikanth’s opponents, should he reach the final.
HS Prannoy, who is now back in the top 10, faces the challenge of erasing the Commonwealth Games setback from his mind and get down to work. With the resurgent Lin Dan in the second round and Son Wan Ho in the quarter-finals, his path certainly doesn’t look rosy.
Apart from the aforementioned Indian names, 2017 Singapore Open Superseries winner B Sai Praneeth too will be in action. He will have to surmount the Chen Long barrier in the second round if he wants to make a deep run.
Swiss Open titlist Sameer Verma has a tough job right from the opener as he has been drawn against Chou Tien Chen.
All the doubles shuttlers, who played at the Commonwealth Games, have taken a much-needed break. While 17-year-old Satwiksairaj Rankireddy is busy with his 12th standard board exams, the rest are attending felicitation programmes and are expected to be back at the Thomas and Uber Cup.
The onus is thus on the men’s doubles national champions, Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy to carry India’s hopes.