NEW DELHI: The bad news first. World’s two top-ranked players, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and wondergirl Tai Tzu Ying of Taiwan, have decided not to travel to India for the Yonex-Sunrise India Open Super 500 tournament. And the good news is, it creates an opportunity for PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth to make hay.
The girls will have to contend with the challenge posed by Spain’s Carolina Marin, ranked fifth in the world. The Olympic champion seems to have a special liking for India. She coming visiting twice every year after achieving stardom. It will be Marin’s third tournament on the bounce at a time when players are struggling to manage the Badminton World Federation‘s new regulation of 15-tournamentsper-year. While most are engaged in the permutation of things, Marin has her eyes on the All England crown scheduled for March. “I am playing back-to-back as it helps me prepare for the All-England championship,” she said on Tuesday.
Gruelling season is not something one got to hear from badminton players and coaches but the new regulation has thrown everyone into a tizzy. Pullela Gopichand, sharing the stage with BWF vice-president Visu Tolan, was understandably uncomfortable while fielding questions on the calendar. “It’s a challenge not for me but all the coaches to keep the players fit. We have to adapt to the new environment,” Gopi said.
Contender for the men’s title, K Srikanth (world No. 3) is coming back from an injurylayoff having skipped both the Indonesian and Malaysian Masters. He had started training a fortnight ago after recovering from the abdominal strain. “This will be my first serious outing in 2018. This is going to be a very intense year with the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games lined up apart from the usual ones. But honestly, I am in no position to plan for August (Asian Games). Currently, I have to get back my rhythm and hope to stay fit,” he said. With the heavyweights from China and Denmark absent, Srikanth and HS Prannoy (World No. 10), may go the distance. Srikanth won the title in 2015 but Prannoy is yet to strike gold here.
Saina, too, is clawing her way back from an ankle injury and her victory over PV Sindhu in the Indonesian Masters has somewhat raised her stock all of a sudden. A winner in 2015, Saina lost the Indonesian Masters final to Tai Tzu Ying last Sunday. It was her seventh straight loss against the girl from Taipei. Still, it was Saina’s best show since her injury-induced exit from the Rio Olympics. She had reunited with Gopichand in 2017 after a threeyear stint with Vimal Kumar.
Perhaps, she is still nursing the scars of that injury. In reply to a question where she was named the title contender at the Siri Fort event, Saina said with a tinge of sarcasm, “Where did that come from? In the last few months I was never considered a contender.” One win against Sindhu has brought India’s original badminton queen back in the subterranean conflict that runs not quite so deep. The current world No. 12 also beat No. 4 Ratchanok Intanon and No.8 Chinese Chen Yufei before being tamed by Tai Tzu.
Given the top-billing in the event, Sindhu is ready to defend her title. Since winning the Olympic silver in Rio, form seems to have picked a new best friend in Sindhu. She won three titles and finished second best in another three last season.