Birmingham: Returning from injuries and battling indifferent form, Indian shuttlers will have to play out of their skins to end the country’s agonising wait for a title at the All England Championships beginning here Tuesday.
It has been 22 years since India won the coveted title when Pullela Gopichand (2001) followed the legendary Prakash Padukone (1980) to achieve the honour.
While Lakshya Sen came close to securing the crown when he reached the final in the last edition and Saina Nehwal was runners-up in the 2015 edition, other Indians, including two-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu, couldn’t go beyond the last-four in the prestigious event.
This time around, things will only be tougher as both Sen and Sindhu, since returning from a long injury lay-off, had subdued starts to the new season, having made early exits in Malaysia and India Open.
World No. 12 Sen is coming into the event after a shock loss to world No. 41 Christo Popov of France in the first round of German Open, while Sindhu, in a desperate measure, has parted ways with Korea’s Park Tae-sang a few weeks ahead of the event.
Sen will face “Mr. Consistent” Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei, seeded fifth, while Sindhu will be up against tricky Chinese Zhang Yi Man, who has a 1-1 record against her.
The former world champion is expected to meet fifth seed He Bing Jiao of China if she crosses the opening hurdle, while nemesis and third seed Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei could be her likely opponent in the quarters.
If there is one Indian who could be the dark horse, it is world No. 9 HS Prannoy, who has been consistent and has registered some big wins against top players, the latest being Malaysia’s world No. 4 Lee Zii Jia at the Badminton Asia Mixed team championship (BATC) in February.
Prannoy will open his campaign against Chinese Taipei’s Wang Tzu Wei, while Kidambi Srikanth, who also has been struggling for some time, is pitted against France’s Toma Junior Popov.
While none of the singles players are seeded this time, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will hope to live up to their sixth seeding, especially after their nemeses and first-round opponent Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo of Indonesia pulled out at the last moment.
Satwik is making a comeback after recovering from a hip injury he sustained during the India Open in January and a lot will depend on how he performs.
The world No. 6 pair had reached the semi-finals at the season-opening Malaysia Open.
Among other Indians in fray, MR Arjun, having recovered from an injury, will pair up with his men’s doubles partner Dhruv Kapila to take on China’s Ren Xiang Yu and Tan Qiang.
Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, who were semi-finalists in 2022, will also look to dazzle after their good show at BATC when they open against the seventh-seeded Thai pair of Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai.
Former world No. 1 Saina Nehwal, who gave a slight glimpse of her old self at the India Open, will meet China’s Han Yue.
The mixed pair of Ishaan Bhatnagar and Tanisha Crasto and women’s pair of Ashwini Bhat K and Shikha Gautam are also in fray.