For once, it is a truly world class field. Clearly stronger than what one gets to witness in the Olympic Games.
The country’s flagship badminton event - the $900,000 India Open - is back with stars like never before. Enhanced prize-money and the upgrade to Super 750 on the Badminton World Federation calendar.
When the world’s top 25 ranked players are part of the 32-man field in singles and 17 of the top-16 players - with the exception of Chinese Taipei’s World No. 3 Tai Tzu Ying - are around in the women’s field, one can expect nothing but the best.
Needless to say, a number of World and Olympic champions and medallists are around in all five sections. Indeed, for a badminton lover in the country, the best place to spend this week is at the Indira Gandhi Stadium’s K. D. Jadhav indoor hall here.
In this elite mix, to expect World No 10 Lakshya Sen to defend his title is rather unfair. Seeded seventh, Lakshya runs into teammate orld No. 8 H. S. Prannoy in the campaign-opener for the second time in a week. The 2021 World champion bronze-medallist will be looking to prevent Prannoy from playing his all-attacking game. Since Lakshya has better speed and on-court movement, Prannoy will have to continue to finish the point at the earliest in order to repeat his triumph.
K. Srikanth, drawn to play World and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the first round on Wednesday, could again find it tough to advance against a man fresh from winning the Malaysia Open on Sunday.
Among the ladies, P. V. Sindhu is back from the stress fracture on her left knee and eager to regain the title. Though her first round exit to former World and Olympic champion Carolina Marin last week is not much to go by, Sindhu sounded confident on the eve of the opening match against Thailand’s Supanida Katethong.
Last year, Sindhu lost to Supanida in the India Open but avenged the loss in the Syed Modi International and repeated the dose in the Swiss Open, all in three games.
“Being a Super 750 event, each round is expected to be tough and I am ready for it,” said Sindhu on Monday and continued, “Last year I lost to Supanida here and then beat her at Lucknow, so I am quite confident. After the injury, my game is coming along nicely but it takes time to get into your rhythm after a six-month lay off.”
In men’s doubles, where fifth seed Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy have a chance to play above their seeding, 15 of the top-16 pairs in the world are in the fray. The only pair missing from the elite list is the 12th ranked Lee Yang-Wang Chi-Lin from Chinese Taipei. Chirag and Satwik are fresh from reaching the semifinal of Malaysia Open on Saturday but run into a possible quarter-final clash with the top seeds from Japan Takuro Hoki and Yu Kobayashi.
In the women’s doubles and mixed doubles, in such a classy field, Indians will have to punch way about their weight to be in the quarterfinals.
Over all, this week could provide a pointer to where Indian badminton stands against the best in the game.
Zoravar beats Bhowneesh top top trap field
Zoravar Singh Sandhu was on top of his game as he beat Olympic quota winner Bhowneesh Mendiratta 30-26 to top a strong trap field of 65 shooters in the National shotgun selection trials at the New Moti Bagh Gun Club in Patiala.
After qualifying in the fifth place with 116, one point behind Lakshay Sheoran, Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Kynan Chenai, the 45-year-old Zoravar was quite sharp as he made it to the top four with the best score of 23 in the semifinals. Thereafter, in the medal round he was dominant.
The young Shardul Vihan, who had topped qualification with 118, got eliminated in the semifinals. In women’s trap, 20-year-old Preeti Rajak was equally assertive in beating Olympian Shagun Chowdhary 26-20 for the top spot, in a field of 44 shooters.
Both Preeti and Shagun had topped qualification with 107. Preeti sustained her good form into the semifinals and thereafter in the medal round.
Sabeera Harris, Bhavya Tripathi, Shreyasi Singh and Varsha Tomar were the others to make the semifinals. The trap shooters will have one more trial, before the skeet shooters step into competition.
Aizawl registers season’s first away win, beating Sudeva Delhi 2-1
Aizawl FC claimed its first away win of the season with a 2-1 victory over bottom-placed side Sudeva Delhi FC in the I-League on Monday.
Aizawl was looking comfortable with goals from Henry Kisekka and Lalchhanhima Sailo till the 86th minute. But Sudeva substitute Carlos Pao scored his second goal of the season to set up a tight finish.
It was one of Sudeva Delhi’s better performances of the season, but it had to come out empty-handed once again. It was the better side in the first half but fell apart after the breather as Ugandan striker Kisekka scored Aizawl’s first goal in the 53rd minute, calmly poking the ball past Sachin Jha at the home goal.
Sailo added a second in the 70th minute with a brilliant curling strike into the top corner from the edge of the box. It was the teenager’s third goal of the season, and Tharpuia’s fifth assist. He is now the joint highest assist-provider with Sreenidi Deccan’s Rosenberg Gabriel.
Sudeva could count themselves unlucky as they hit the post and the crossbar once each and had 64 per cent ball possession right through the match.
W40 Bhopal: Ankita Raina to start against Ekaterina Maklakova
It will be a challenge for the best of Indian players to make an impact in the $40,000 ITF women’s tennis tournament to be played at the Arena Club, Bhopal from Tuesday.
None of the Indian players have got a seeding, which should give a hint about the strength of the field headed by Nigina Abduraimova of Uzbekistan and Joanne Zuger of Switzerland, ranked 170 and 188 respectively.
The country’s No.1 Ankita Raina, ranked 264 will open against Ekaterina Maklakova of Russia, while the 284th ranked Karman Kaur Thandi will open against Daria Kudashova of Russia.
Shrivalli Bhamidipaty was the only Indian player to qualify into the main draw, winning two rounds, and will play the fourth seed Irina Khromacheva of Russia in the first round.
Rutuja Bhosale, one of the four direct entrants among Indian players, will have a relatively easy first round, as she takes on wild card entrant Pehal Kharadkar. In comparison, Sahaja Yamalapalli will open against qualifier Eri Shimizu of Japan.
Vaidehi Chaudhari, Sharmada Balu and Zeel Desai are the other wild card entrants who will all have tough Russians to challenge in their first round. With a series of similar tournaments lined up to be hosted across the country in the first three months of the season, the Indian players may get accustomed to quality opposition and be able to assert their game at some stage soon.
1. Nigina Abduraimova (Uzb), 2. Joanne Zuger (Sui), 3. Carole Monnet (Fra), 4. Irina Khromacheva (Rus), 5. Anastasia Tikhonova (Rus), 6. Ekaterina Makarova (Rus), 7. Valeria Savinykh (Rus), 8. Dalila Jakupovic (Slo).
Qualifying singles (second and final round): Ksenia Zaytseva (Rus) bt Saki Imamura (Jpn) 6-4, 6-4; Ziva Falkner (Slo) bt Sravya shivani 6-2, 6-3; Ainitdinova Gozal (Kaz) bt Smriti Bhasin 6-2, 6-1; Eri Shimizu (Jpn) bt Humera Baharmus 6-0, 6-2; Emily Welker (Ger) bt Shreya Tatavarthy 6-4, 6-1; Funa Kozaki (Jpn) w.o. Rosalie van der Hoek (Ned); Shrivalli Bhamidipaty bt Saumya Vig 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-1; Mana Kawamura (Jpn) bt Anastasia Sukhotina (Rus) 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-1.
Yogesh beats Ajay to win ITF Masters in Meerut
Yogesh Shah prevailed over Ajay Talwar 6-4, 6-7(3), [10-8] to clinch the over-65 title in the ITF Masters tennis tournament at the Alexander Athletic Club.
Tata Steel Masters: Arjun, Pragg start with draws, Gukesh struggles
Arjun Erigaisi and R. Praggnanandhaa made sedate starts with successive draws but D. Gukesh was looking to open his account after two rounds of the Masters section of the prestigious Tata Steel chess tournament at Wijk aan Zee on Tuesday.
In the Challengers group, B. Adhiban drew the first two rounds while R. Vaishali suffered a loss in the second round after opening her account with a draw.
- Rakesh Rao