A year ago, the Yonex-Sunrise India Open had seen a rare spectacle unfold – K Srikanth and Saina Nehwal had made it a double triumph for the hosts.
It was the first time the India Open had seen two Indian winners since it became a World Superseries event in 2011. For Nehwal the occasion was particularly memorable, as she was assured of becoming world No.1 the week after her first home Superseries win.
The two Indian players have had slightly different career trajectories since then. For the rest of the year, Srikanth struggled in the early rounds, before his form revived somewhat in December with a final place at the Yonex-Sunrise Indonesian Masters. Triumph at the Syed Modi International on home soil in January this year was his first victory in many months. His ranking has dipped, although he is still in the top ten.
Nehwal, on the other hand, had a strong season after her India Open win – making the TOTAL BWF World Championships final and falling a win short of defending her Thaihot China Open title. Her stellar performances were rewarded with the Indian President honouring her with one of India’s highest civilian awards – the Padma Bhushan.
That she was at the Presidential palace to receive the award today sounded like an auspicious omen for the Yonex-Sunrise India Open, which begins tomorrow at Siri Fort Sports Complex.
Nehwal will certainly be favoured to retain her title. She has a relatively easy draw until the quarter-finals,
where she’s due to meet Skycity New Zealand Open champion Sung Ji Hyun (Korea), against whom she has a 5-1 record. A semi-final against China’s Li Xuerui (3) or Wang Shixian (6) is likely.
The top half of the draw opened up as World champion Carolina Marin (Spain), seeded 1, withdrew, as did the Japanese in red-hot form, Nozomi Okuhara. The immediate beneficiary of Marin’s withdrawal is India’s PV Sindhu, who was to meet the World champion in the first round. Instead, she takes on Italy’s Jeanine Cicognini.
“I won the Malaysia Masters at the start of the year but have lost the early rounds or quarter-finals of a few events after that,” said Sindhu. “My fitness and form are good; I just need to get consistent.”
Other big guns in her half are Yui Hashimoto, Akane Yamaguchi (both Japan), Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon and Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying.
In Men’s Singles, top seed Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) and third seed Lin Dan (China) appear set for a semi-final clash, but players like Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, Korea’s Son Wan Ho and India’s HS Prannoy might be able to prevent that eventuality. No.2 seed Kento Momota (Japan), Chou Tien Chen (Chinese Taipei), Jan O Jorgensen (Denmark), Srikanth and Tian Houwei (China) are some of the prominent names in the lower half of the draw. Srikanth’s title defence will begin against Tian Houwei, against whom he is 1-5, and the Indian insisted that that was all he was thinking of for the moment.
“My biggest challenge right now is my first round opponent. There’s no point in looking deeper into the draw if I lose my first round. There will be pressure on me to defend the title, but I will have home support as well, and that will inspire me.”
Men’s Doubles defending champions Chai Biao/Hong Wei (China) are top seeded in the category, which has seen a few prominent withdrawals, including recent Yonex All England winners Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov (Russia). Apart from the top seeds, Indonesia’s Markus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, Denmark’s Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding, Malaysia’s Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong, Korea’s Kim Gi Jung/Kim Sa Rang (2) and Shin Baek Choel/Ko Sung Hyun would be the pairs to watch. Also in the reckoning are the young Chinese pairs in the draw – Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, Lu Kai/Liu Cheng and Wang Yilyu/Zhang Wen.
In Women’s Doubles, defending champions Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan) face a possible semi-final clash with the pair they vanquished in the All England final, China’s Yu Yang/Tang Yuanting, or top seeds Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari (Indonesia). Japan’s Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirata, who won the Skycity New Zealand Open on Sunday, face a formidable opener in China’s Huang Yaqiong/Tang Jinhua. Another Chinese pair to watch would be World Junior champions Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan, who might prove a handful for No.7 seeds Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee (Korea) in the first round.
Mixed Doubles, like the other doubles disciplines, too saw some prominent withdrawals, such as top seeds Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir, All England champions Praveen Jordan/Debby Susanto (both Indonesia), and Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying. Danish pair Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen are favoured to emerge from the top half, while the lower half could see some close contests between the likes of Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock (England), Lu Kai/Huang Yaqiong (China), Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara (Japan) and Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na (Korea).