Bigger, better and richer Indian Open pits Lakshya against Prannoy in first round


Atreyo Mukhopadhyay


New Delhi: The year was 2011. A 12-year-old boy undertook a 12-hour bus journey from Almora to the national capital to watch a badminton tournament. He wanted to become a player and did not want to miss out on watching his heroes from up close and in action live.

Twelve years on, the stature and status of the tournament and that boy have changed significantly. The boy has established himself on the world stage. Lakshya Sen is the World No 10 in men’s singles, winner of a World Championship bronze medal and a member of the Thomas Cup-winning Indian team. The tournament is India Open, which for the first time has been accorded Super 750 status. It has become one of the world’s top 10 badminton tournaments.

This means more top players, more prize money and more ranking points. In short, there is a lot more at stake. So when the shuttle starts flying around at the KD Jadhav Hall in the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on Tuesday morning, it will mark the beginning of an era. Of the 31 events in the Badminton World Federation’s calendar for 2023, there are four Super 1000s and six Super 750s. It underlines India’s growing importance as a badminton-playing nation and destination.

Men’s World No 1 Victor Axelsen of Denmark, who won the title in the season-opener in Malaysia last week, is here. And so is Naraoka Kodai, who lost to Axelsen in the final. The Japanese is ranked sixth in the world. Enriching the field further are World No 2 Jia Zii Lee of Malaysia, No 3 Jonatan Christie of Indonesia and No 4 Anthony Ginting of Indonesia. Japan’s two-time former world champion Kento Momota is there as well, trying to claw his back from an injury-induced break.

The women’s field is no less illustrious. World No 1 and winner in Malaysia, Akane Yamaguchi of Japan is here, with No 2 Chen Yu Fei of China, No 4 An Se Young of South Korea and No 5 He Bing Jiao of China. Former world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain is coming back from a knee surgery and doesn’t have a high ranking at the moment. “This is a chance for me to see where I stand. Although I lost in the quarterfinals in Malaysia, I am happy with the way I played,” she said.

India’s men’s singles players have been handed a tough draw. Defending champion Sen, who lost to compatriot and World No 8 HS Prannoy in three games in the first round in Malaysia, runs into the same player again in the first round in New Delhi. “A draw is a draw. You can’t help it. Yes, I wish this had not happened in successive weeks. But then, I can’t do anything about it,” said Sen. Chief coach Pullela Gopichand, who prefers not watching the match when two Indians run into each other, pointed out the positive side. “When you have so many Indians in the top 32, this may happen. It shows our badminton is improving,” said Gopichand.

World No 13 Kidambi Srikanth had lost in the first round in Malaysia against Kenta Nishimoto of Japan. In Delhi, awaiting him in the first will be none other than Axelsen. A former World No 1 himself and World Championship runner-up in 2021, Srikanth has what it takes to match the best in the world. Just that he has to be at his very best right from the beginning in Delhi.

There are four Indians in women’s singles. PV Sindhu, who lost to Marin the opening round in Malaysia, starts against Supanida Katethong of Thailand. “I am feeling fine fitness-wise and enjoying myself there in the middle. Let’s see how it goes,” said Sindhu. Saina Nehwal, last year’s bronze medallist Akarshi Kashyap and youngster Malvika Bansod are the others. All of them had lost in the first round in Malaysia.

Possibly the biggest attraction from the Indian point of view is the men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. Semi-finalists in Malaysia, they have already stunned the world with some breathtaking wins against top pairs. They start against Denmark’s Jeppe Bay and Lasse Molhede. India’s success in badminton has largely been confined to singles. Satwik and Chirag have broken that mould. Expectations on them are high and it is to be seen how they handle that pressure.

In all, there are three Indian entries in men’s doubles, two in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles. Gopichand’s daughter Gayatri forms one of the pairs in women’s doubles, with Treesa Jolly. However, barring Satwik-Chirag, none of the pairs are medal contenders. But make no mistake. This will be a unique opportunity for all 21 Indian players in action. Never before did they get a chance to perform at a competition of this level at home. If the crowd comes in and gets behind the Indians, who knows!


Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *