The All England Open is a legacy tournament that holds a special place in Indian badminton given the victories of Prakash Padukone (1980) and Pullela Gopichand (2001).
No other Indian has won the Super 1000 since then, but the Indians put in a strong performance in last year’s edition with rising stars Lakshya Sen playing in the final and reserves Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly reaching the semi-final.
However, ahead of this year’s edition there are more questions, less hope and a horny draw for Indian badminton stars. Neither singles player is seeded this time around and the only Indian seeds, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, face a pair they have never beaten, in the first round.
India’s top players haven’t exactly had the best start to the year with PV Sindhu slowly recovering from injury, Satwik injured and indifferent men’s singles results in the first two months of the year. At the same time, India clinched a bronze medal at the Asian Badminton Mixed Team Championships last month with a full team effort.
In such a context, it is difficult to predict the chances of the Indians and the draw does not help. Here’s a closer look at the Indians in action:
H. S. Prannoy vs. Wang Tzu Wei
Lakshya Sen vs. Chou Tien Chen
Srikanth Kidambi vs. Toma Junior Popov
From the Indian perspective, all eyes will be on last year’s runner-up Lakshya to see if he can replicate that run. The 21-year-old has been suffering from a form of sophomore syndrome, beginning this season with two first-round losses and one second-round loss at the Indian Open, where he was the defending champion. He had a good run at the Indonesian Masters in January, reaching the third round and beating Kodai Naraoka, but lost to the lower-ranked Toma Junior Popov last week.
The road to another final in Birmingham will not be easy, as he will start against fifth seed Chou Tien Chen, a player he has yet to beat in two meetings. If he gets his first win over him, he will face the winner of Anders Antonsen and Rasmus Gemke, with number 3 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting a possible quarterfinal opponent.
HS Prannoy is in the same room as Sen, of course, and we could have the eighth meeting between the two Indians in the last year. But first, Prannoy will face Wang Tzu Wei, against whom he has a 4-3 record, with a possible second round against Ginting.
Srikanth, yet to win a BWF match in 2023, starts against Popov (1-1 in H2H) and has a potential clash with Japanese seventh seed Kodai Naraoka, who is struggling physically after a sensational start to the year. Lee Zii Jia is the other seed in this section.
PV Sindhu vs. Zhang Yi Man
Saina Nehwal vs. Han Yue
Sindhu is usually a contender in whatever tournament she plays, but All England is one where she has yet to reach the final. With her slow start following a five-month injury layoff and a change in coach, her form remains uncertain.
He starts against Zhang Yi Man, against whom he has a 1-1 record. If he wins, he will play fifth seed and family enemy He Bing Jiao, who has a 10-9 record against India. Third seed Tai Tzu Ying is the other seed this quarter, who is 17-5 H2H. He talks about a rough drawing.
Saina Nehwal, the 2015 finalist, will start against Han Yue, who has a 3-1 record against India. A win will pit her against sixth seed Wang Zhi Yi.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty vs. Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo
MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila vs. Ren Xiang Yu and Tan Qiang
There are only two high-profile pairs that Sat-Chi hasn’t beaten yet, and they’re desperate to top them. They are both in their neighborhood in the All England.
The sixth seeds open against the ‘Minions’, who have an 11-0 advantage over them. But, Indonesia’s doubles stars are now unseeded and if ever there was a chance for the first win, it’s now. If they clear this hurdle, they are likely to play Indian Open champions Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang, who defeated them in the semifinals in Malaysia. And if they make it to the quarterfinals, they could face second seeds Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, who lead their H2H 7-0.
With Satwik coming off injury which forced the defending champions to withdraw from the Indian Open, there is no form guide. But as they have shown time and time again, they are important players and despite the odds, Sat-Chi will be India’s best hope in Birmingham.
The other Indians in the draw are MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, who start against Ren Xiang Yu and Tan Qiang, a Chinese pairing they have never faced before. A win could see them face fifth seeds Liu Yu Chen and Ou Xuan Yi.
Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand vs. Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai
Ashwini Bhat and Shikha Gautam vs. Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee
Last year, the All England was the biggest breakthrough for teenagers Treesa and Gayatri when they reached the semi-finals after being promoted from the reserves. This year, the world number 19 pair get off to a rocky start against seventh seeds Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai, who hold a 4-0 lead over them.
But Treesa & Gayatri have built some nice momentum in the last month. They were undefeated at the Asian Badminton Mixed Team Championships with wins over bogey pairing Pearly Tan-Thinaah Muralitharan, as well as against China in the semifinals, also winning the national championship.
Ashwini Bhat and Shikha Gautam start against Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee, whom they are playing for the first time. If they win, they will face second seeds Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida.
Ishaan Bhatnagar and Tanisha Crasto vs. Mark Lamsfuss and Isabel Lohau
India’s only representation in mixed doubles, Ishaan and Tanisha start against the eighth-seeded pairing of Germany in what is their first meeting. Second seeds Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino are the other seeds this quarter.