A day before the start of the India Open Super Series, the enormity of the challenge facing the home contingent would have been obvious to them. Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand may have pulled out of the tournament but the women’s draw still features Olympic champion World No.1 Li Xuerui, Olympic silver medalist Yihan Wang and defending All England champion Wang Shixian. One half of the men’s draw features World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei while the other half has China’s Chen Long who had beaten the Malaysian four times consecutively until the result was overturned in the final of the all England championships.
But while most Indian shuttlers will at least get an easy opener before eventually running into a higher-ranked opponent, PV Sindhu opens her campaign on Wednesday against the All England champion and current world no. 3 Shixian. Sindhu – who also has Yihan and Saina Nehwal in her half — admits she was surprised when she saw the draw. “I am used to playing top-ranked players, but usually quarterfinals onwards. So it was a surprise when I realised that I would be playing Shixian in the first round. But it is a high-quality tournament, and my world ranking (9) isn’t high enough to ensure I get easier draws,” said Sindhu on the eve of the tournament.
Sindhu wasn’t fretting, however, as she had a light-hearted three-on-three hitting session on Monday. While Shixian may be in red-hot form, she has never beaten the Indian in any of their three encounters. And while Sindhu says she isn’t the favorite, the 18-year-old admits that she certainly isn’t the underdog any longer.
“In the past when I beat players like Shixian and Xuerui, it would be called an upset but now there is the expectation that I will consistently perform against them,” she acknowledged.
All three of Sindhu’s matches with Shixian have come in the space of a year. “The first time I played her at the Asian Badminton Championships (in April 2013). I was quite nervous because she was a former World No. 1. The match went to three games but I was able to win. The next time we played was at the World Championships. I went into that match with nothing to lose and because of that there was no pressure on me. Then at the Swiss Open, I had a lot of confidence because I had beaten her twice before,” she said.
While Sindhu insists that a fourth win against Shixian isn’t assured, it’s clear that she has the Chinese shuttler’s number.
“Shixian is a player who likes to rally a lot and will punish you if you give anything loose. So my goal is not to give away easy points and try and attack her from time to time,” she said.
The results over Shixian were part of a season that saw her move from World No. 19 to her current top 10 position. “Over this year I have been improving in all aspects of my game. I am more consistent in my strokes and have got better defensively. I have also been able to keep my focus during matches and even if I am losing points stay positive. Over the last year I have played Saina three times and I felt that I have been getting closer each time. The first time was at the IBL when it was a very one-sided match. But by the time we played at the Syed Modi tournament (where she lost in the final), I felt I was in a much better position,” she said.
But recent results haven’t been entirely positive. Apart from reaching the finals in the Syed Modi tournament and the semifinals at the Swiss Open, Sindhu lost in the first round at the All England and in the second round of the Malaysia Open. “It’s not a major concern because most of my defeats have been very close. In the Swiss Open, where I lost to Sun Yu, I lost in the third game on game point after an unlucky net cord. It was one of those days when it could have gone either way,” she countered.
But while the signs suggest Sindhu should get off to a winning start on Wednesday, the shuttler herself is cautious about her prospects in a tournament where she has a quarterfinal and semifinal appearance to her name. “ Even if I beat Shixian, it doesn’t mean that I have won the tournament because the draw is still very tough,” Sindhu cautioned.
Srikanth eying top-10 ranking
New Delhi: India’s top ranked male shuttler Kidambi Srikanth is eyeing medals in team championships and breaking into the top-10 of world rankings this year. After winning his maiden title in Thailand Grand Prix Gold last year, Srikanth became the best-ranked Indian player — No.22 — in international badminton within 10 months and he said he wanted to play freely as much as possible and was looking to win some medals in the team championships this year.
“I don’t want to take any pressure. Last year there was no pressure on me so I just want to play freely. I have improved a lot physically and mentally in the last one year. My attacking game has also improved. I want to be more consistent,” said the 21-year-old. (PTI)
IBL Two from September 30
New Delhi: The second edition of the Indian Badminton League (IBL) will be held from September 30 to October 15, the IBL Governing Council said on Monday. The governing council has decided to allow franchisees to increase the team strength from 11 in the first year to 13 players. Each franchisee can pick two more players — Indian or foreign — which will further intensify the competition.
“Badminton at the 2014 Asian Games gets over on the 29th of September, 2014. Players can directly fly in from Incheon for the league,” said the Badminton Association of India President and IBL Governing Council Chairman, Dr Akhilesh Das Gupta.
“Last year, too, players had reached Delhi directly from Guangzhou, China, after taking part in the World Badminton Championships. This period ensures us the right opportunity to have world’s best players for the IBL, which already has created a buzz the world over,” added the BAI chief.
IBL 1, held between 14-31 August, 2013, was won by PVP Ventures-owned Hyderabad Hotshots.
IBL 1 faced its share of controversy. Badminton powerhouse China shunned the league, robbing the event of a number of star players. During the time of the player auction, doubles specialists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa termed the League’s decision to slash their base price at the last moment “disrespectful” and “absurd”. Gutta would later be faced with a lifetime ban for trying to stop her franchise Delhi from playing a match against Banga Beats.
Even after the IBL ended, there were reports that the some of the players had not been payed their entire salary. (ENS)