Updated: January 11, 2022 6:33:59 pm
PV Sindhu, India’s tallest badminton player, isn’t accustomed to having things easy before the medal hangs off her neck. Her 2019 World Championship crown might’ve come in domineering fashion, but for the perennial high performer, operating in women’s badminton’s toughest eras, not one podium has come without one or the other Top Tenner dragging her into those taut, punishing three-setters. That she stubs out nervousness for her followers by pulling out these tricky leadups to the big final day are a testament to her consistency. But once in a while, Sindhu deserves a breather. An on-court breather where she is served up opponents who don’t arrive stomping, commanding a minimum 45-minute engagement full of giddy retrievals.
The India Open of 2022 gives Sindhu, a five time World’s and double Olympic medallist, that rare title opportunity, on a platter. With the circulating virus depleting competition draws, the Indian will get a few slow-paced opening rounds, including a few aspiring Indians.
That India has no women’s singles player of note after Sindhu, is not a secret. Forget snapping at her heels, the next Indian crop can’t be said to be even a length’s distance behind her in horse-racing terms. To put it brutally, they might not feature in the same frame as her. This gap turns yawning – not only because Sindhu’s achievements are stupendously other-worldly in a very mediocre shuttle universe, but also because none of the younger players have stepped up in time, to command any attention.
Perhaps India got spoilt silly after Saina Nehwal and Sindhu hit the highest notes in their teens, and didn’t dawdle around in juniors or lower rung tournaments. The follow-up flurry, hasn’t been very sparky though. Yet, the likes of Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli and Ira Sharma will earn themselves the show court to leave an impression – never mind the gulf in class that may show up.
Ashmita Chaliha, the Assamese left hander, is a classic case of what ought to have been India’s second-string with her rafty southpaw game. But has drifted away from the top competition, partly due to the pandemic, but also from want of precise planning, given she continues at Guwahati, and is barely on the circuit.
Rituparna Das, the elegant player with pitiful fitness, and the spirited Riya Mookherjee, who have done the national level criss-crossing, have not managed to make a mark internationally. And this India Open, is that one chance to play the main draw, like their lives depended on it, because rarely will a field be so thinned that India’s domestic players get a shoo-in.
Aakarshi Kashyap, training as Sindhu’s understudy at the Suchitra academy, has been in good form in the ranking tourneys domestically. While Malvika Bansod and Samiya Farooqui might be the most intriguing first-round faceoff – with the awaited prize being, facing Saina Nehwal, the original domineer.
Nehwal’s fitness has massive persistent question marks, but besides first round opponent Tereza Svavikova, she gets an entire quarter filled with young Indians gunning for a win against her. Beating Saina Nehwal will set them up for a season, should any of themselves find the courage within to show the original some healthy disrespect nicking kill points off her.
For Sindhu though, the only two names that can potentially challenge her are Singaporean Yeo Jia Min in semis (beware of the Loh Kean Yew effect) and Thai second seed Busanan Ongbamrungphan in finals. But really, it is PV Sindhu’s title to lose. Early pickings in a season that can start with a good workout at home after all the near-misses and aggravations of 2021. A title is a title, and if India is opening the season, then Sindhu might as well pocket the first one in many months.
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