As such, the All England is just one of five Super Series Premier tournaments on the annual badminton circuit. With a total prize purse of USD 400,000 it isn’t even the richest, with Asia’s badminton-crazy and skyscraping hypercities from Korea, China and Indonesia leaving Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena far behind on sweepstakes that are on offer for its champions. Yet, Indians tend to go all mushy on the All England year after year, after Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand gave the country two of its finest sporting memories winning the prestigious trophy in the last three decades.
The All England though, has remained an elusive mirage for India’s most successful badminton player – Saina Nehwal, a summit two steps too far for the Olympic bronze medallist. Nehwal’s made two semifinals there, but never really had a sniff at the actual title, outwitted by a fair margin on both occasions.
Indians head to the 2014 edition starting Tuesday with one of the strongest set of challengers in singles – ranking-wise. But with indifferent form dogging the lot of them, this year’s edition might well again dissipate into an unproductive outing for the four young shuttlers.
An unprecedented two in the Top 10 of women’s singles (Nehwal at No 7, and PV Sindhu at No 9) means there is strength in numbers and the probability of a podium, literally, doubles. Yet, both girls were staring at lacklustre season-beginnings, until Nehwal picked the Syed Modi GP Gold earlier in the year – her first title in over a year.
Nehwal starts out against Scottish Kirsty Gilmour (which gives her a good look-in against a probable Commonwealth Games opponent), not a particularly stiff opponent. But she will be well and truly tested against the likes of Eriko Hirose or Shixian Wang, who are known to drag her into marathon matches accompanied with their wily mental-games.
Sindhu, battling in the same half of the draw as her, first comes up against Chinese 6-footer Sun Yu and it will be as fascinating a face-off as a new generation Indo-Chinese rivalry will allow. She might have an angry Yihan Wang awaiting her next, given the last time they met, the Indian 18-year-old snatched the Chinese shuttler’s podium at the Worlds.
In men’s singles, India’s best are pitted against Japan’s leading challengers, with World No 18 P Kashyap facing former All England finalist and fifth seed Kenichi Tago, and K Srikanth (No 21) up against unseeded Kento Momota. Their paths of progress are littered with the likes of Jan O Jorgensen and Pengyu Du, though both would concede there’s no easy rounds at an event like the All England. For Srikanth debuting at the hallowed venue and having enjoyed a breakthrough year last season, the All-England could be the perfect platform to grab global attention should he notch a few upsets here.
Anand Pawar heads the list of qualifiers who’ll attempt to go past Tuesday and enter the main draw, though considerable attention will be on the women’s doubles pairing of Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponappa – heading to All England in what is their first big tournament since reuniting. The former World Championship bronze medallists will start in the qualifiers.