Absence of China, Japan lessens competition at Thailand Open, says Chirag

China withdrew after a surge of COVID-19 cases in Thailand while Japan pulled out at the last minute after world no. 1 Kento Momota tested positive for COVID-19.

Chirag and Satwik became the first Indian men's doubles pair to win a Super 500 title when they last visited Bangkok. But Chirag made it clear they don't have any expectations this time as they return to action after more than a year.   -  CHALINEE THIRASUPA

India's top men's doubles player Chirag Shetty believes the absence of China and Japan will lessen competition at the upcoming Thailand Open but said he and his partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are not entering the tournament with huge expectations.

Chinese and Japanese players will be missing action at YONEX Thailand Open (January 12-17), TOYOTA Thailand Open (January 19-24) and the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020 (January 27-31), which will conclude the coronavirus-hit 2020 season.

While China had withdrawn after a surge of COVID-19 cases in Thailand, Japan pulled out at the last minute after world no. 1 Kento Momota tested positive for COVID-19.

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"China and Japan not playing...we can't say easier because there are a few other good pairs as well but yeah 3-4 top 10 players won't be participating, so the competition reduces a bit," Chirag, one half of the world no. 10 pair, told PTI.

"It will affect the competition because there are 2-3 Japanese and Chinese pairs in the top 10 but there are lot of different pairs from Malaysia and Indonesia, so the competition is still pretty strong."

Chirag and Satwik became the first Indian men's doubles pair to win a Super 500 title when they last visited Bangkok. But Mumbai-born Chirag made it clear they don't have any expectations this time as they return to action after more than a year.

"Resuming international badminton at a place where we have won the Thailand Open, I think it gives us a mixed feeling. In a way we are confident of a good show since we have been training well and just can't wait to get back on court," said Chirag.

"But there is also a feeling that we haven't played for a long time, so we aren't entering with any expectations," added the 23-year-old, who along with Satwik had reached the 2019 French Open finals.

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Since their exploits in Thailand and France, the Indian duo had to endure a rough phase with Satwik falling prey to COVID-19.

In fact, the last time the duo played together was at Malaysia Masters in January last year.

Most of 2020 was spent indoors like the rest of world and it was only last month that the two could get together to train.

"We got a month's practice together after I went to Hyderabad on December 5th, so physically we are 100 percent but being fit and match-fit are two different things," Chirag said.

"We will only get to know where we stand when we are on court but we are rearing to go." Chirag and Satwik will play against Kim Gi Jung and Lee Yong Dae in the first round of Yonex Thailand Open.

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"The emphasis is to play consistent badminton and improving our defence and we have been working on that. So we will take one match at a time and it is important to see where we stand at the moment," he said.

"Hopefully we can get back to our usual self and get back to the level where we played before the lockdown." The events in the Asia leg are being conducted under strict bio-secure environment and Chirag said it hasn't been easy. But, he knows strict protocols are necessary to safely conduct the tournaments.

"The protocols have been pretty difficult to follow, maintain social distancing is mandatory but initially there was delay because the organisers too were a bit wary and confused as there were a lot of players and managing everybody was a difficult task," he said.  "So travelling to stadium and back to room took a lot of time. We spend a lot of time in bus, there were a lot of protocols but we have to follow them to take part in this event. We can't really complain and have to look at the brighter side."

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