P. V. Sindhu
World ranking: 7
Form guide 2021: Yonex Thailand Open – first round; Toyota Thailand Open – quarterfinals; World Tour Finals – lost twice and won once in the league, did not qualify for the semifinals; Swiss Open – final; All England Championships – semifinals.
Main rivals: Mia Blichfeldt (Denmark), Tai Tzu-ying (Chinese Taipei), Akane Yamaguchi (Japan), Chen Yu Fie (China).
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Sindhu arrives in Tokyo as the reigning world champion and 2016 Olympic silver medallist. In the absence of Rio Games champion Carolina Marin of Spain, Sindhu should been one of the strong favourites in Tokyo. However, her form since winning the 2019 world title has left much to be desired – she has not won a single title since then. In 14 tournaments spread over the past 23 months, notwithstanding the cancellation of events owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Sindhu figured in only one final – at the 2021 Swiss Open – and lost in the semifinals of the 2021 All England Championships. Since February, Sindhu has been training at Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Stadium under Park Tae-sang, who she knew well from her days at the Gopichand Academy, but the results of this extensive coaching are yet to show. Sindhu and her support staff are working hard to add another medal in Tokyo.
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B. Sai Praneeth
World ranking: 15
Form guide 2021: Yonex Thailand Open – first round; Swiss Open – quarterfinals; All England Championships – second round.
Main rivals: Ng Ka Long (Hong Kong), Kento Momota (Japan).
Saved by this performance in the Swiss Open, Praneeth just about managed to qualify to Tokyo on the basis of his ranking. After all, he did not register a single victory in six matches across four tournaments in 2020. To now expect him to punch above his seeding of 13 to get to the semifinals would be unfair. He should advance from the preliminary league stage, but could then run into eighth seed Ng Ka Long in the elimination round. Should Praneeth make the quarterfinals, top seed Kento Momota could be waiting.
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Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty
Age: Satwiksairaj 20, Chirag 24
World ranking: 10
Form guide 2021: Yonex Thailand Open – second round; Toyota Thailand Open – quarterfinals; Swiss Open – semifinals; All England Championships – second round.
Main rivals: Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (Indonesia), Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin (Chinese Taipei), Ben Lane and Sean Vendy (Great Britain).
The Indian pair – the first to break into the top 10 of the world rankings – made impressive strides in the last completed season. However, the one-year postponement of the Games affected Satwik and Chirag in different ways.
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Satwik contracted COVID during the first wave and had to deal with the death of his maternal uncle and a rising number of cases at home. The stop-start preparations apart, the physical and mental toll has left the duo worried. Under Danish coach Mathias Boe – the men’s doubles silver medallist at London 2012 – Satwik and Chirag have gained the confidence of playing the European way, mastered under coaches from the region, to go with their Asian style.
But they face formidable opposition in the preliminary league stage, being placed in Group A with the world No. 1 Indonesian pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and the No. 3 team of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin of Chinese Taipei, with only two teams advancing to the quarterfinals. The Indians will have to win at least two matches. Ben Lane and Sean Vendy, the world No. 18 pair, look beatable, but Satwik and Chirag will have to defeat one of the two higher-seeded duos in the group as well to advance.