Indian Open Badminton bolstered by Chinese presence

The Yonex Sunrise India Open, with a prize money of 250 thousand US dollars, will start at the Siri Fort Indoor Stadium, from today onwards. One of the leading seeds in the championship is Li Xuerui from China who grabbed eyeballs as a relatively unknown prospect during 2010 when she defeated Saina Nehwal, who was the top seed for that edition of the tournament. Li achieved this after passing through the qualification stages and also won the tournament after beating fellow Chinese, Liu Xin, who was a qualifier herself. At present Li is the number 1 player in global badminton rankings and has won a gold medal at the Olympics.

The Indian Open features all the leading shuttlers from the world with the exception of Ratchanok Intanon from Thailand. The World Champion has declined from participating in the tournament on the account of injury. This means that the tournament does not have any clear favorites as such. Also taking part in the tournament are Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan, who have previously been top ranked players and are presently among the top 3 players in the game. This shows that perhaps the tournament, which concludes on April 6, could well have a champion from the neighboring country.

Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu are the best bets for India as far as winning the championship is concerned. However, they have been seeded at 8th and 9th positions respectively – this perhaps implies that the road will be pretty tough for them. In 2013 too Saina was seeded at number 1 but she had an unceremoniously early exit. This year her draw is comparatively easier and it can be expected that she will do well enough so that the draw could be justified.

Sindhu, however, will be going up against Wang Shixian, who is presently the champion of the All England Championships as well as the Asian Games. Wang has been also given second seeding in the tournament. The only silver lining for Sindhu is that in 2013 she had beaten Wang in all the 3 matches played between them. She is sure that the result will be similar this time around as well.

The men’s section of the tournament is equally star studded as well with Lee Chong Wei, the incumbent champion and the top ranked player in men’s badminton around the world. His participation has generated a fair degree of interest in the tournament. Chen Long, the second seed, is also another important name in this regard. Third seed Kenichi Tago from Japan and Boonsak Ponsana, the fifth seed from Thailand, have withdrawn late from the tournament. Tommy Sugiarto, the 4th ranked player of the world from Indonesia is also not taking part in the same. All this could see some new faces progressing to the quarterfinals this time around in the men’s singles. It is expected that the Indian players could do well this time around because of the success they have had against some of the top players in the Indian Badminton League that was staged during August 2014.

In the men’s doubles section, 6 of the leading 8 teams of the world are taking part in the tournament. However, the absence of the duo of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan is one worth noticing. As far as their women counterparts are concerned the 3rd and 6th best teams of the world – both are from China – have withdrawn. This means that teams from Denmark, Korea and Japan now have a better chance at winning the tournament.

In the mixed doubles segment it is expected that the competition will be closer, especially in the finals, with the participation of Zhao Yunlei and Zhang Nan, the top seed from China and Lillyana Natsir and Tontowi Ahmed, the second seeds hailing from Indonesia. It is expected that the only area where the Indians have a substantial chance at silverware is women’s singles.

It is disheartening that on a tournament being held on Indian soil such is the plight of Indians that they will be playing second fiddle in most of their encounter. Even Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu are not among the top 5 seeds – the decline of Nehwal in the last couple of years has been startling and heartbreaking for Indian fans. The apparent failure of the Indian system to produce a worthy successor to Pullela Gopichand has also been bemusing for the local fans. Also strange is the fact that in an Indian tournament the international players are the biggest drawcards. This is where a tournament such as the Indian Badminton League could be successful by providing young Indians the exposure and experience of playing leading names from around the world. One can only hope that Indians play well and win the tournament and make the country proud yet again.