Badminton in times of COVID-19: Sindhu, Srikanth eye glory at India Open

New Delhi: Star Indian shuttles PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth will look to carry over last season’s momentum and let the new year win as they kick off their campaign at the India Open, which returns after being canceled twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many ranking points are up for grabs as the $400,000 Super 500 tournament is held in the looming shadow of a raging third wave of the country’s pandemic, with cases rising rapidly, fueled by the new Omicorn variant.

Top shuttle B Sai Praneeth and doubles player Dhruv Rawat have already withdrawn after testing positive in the pre-departure test. A few other Indians wait for the results of their RT-PCR tests after they get positive the first time and can also miss out in case of another positive result.

The actual picture of the list of participating players will not appear until later in the day after the manager’s meeting.

However, the specter of COVID does not stop the Indian and foreign top players from descending on the national capital.

In addition to Sindhu and Srikanth, many top players such as newly crowned World Champion Loh Kean Yew, three-time World Champion Indonesian duo Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, Malaysians Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi will also be in action at the behind closed doors event here in the Indira Gandhi Stadium.

With the Indians, all eyes will be on two-time Olympic medalist Sindhu and world championship silver and bronze medalists, Srikanth and Lakshya Sen, to deliver the goods at the country’s flagship event.

Sindhu started a consistent run last season when she claimed a second Olympic medal and also took silver at the World Tour Final, in addition to making the final at the Swiss Open and some semi-finals, but a title eluded her.

The 26-year-old from Hyderabad, whose last title was the 2019 World Championships, is eager to reclaim the India Open title, which she first captured five years ago in 2017.

Sindhu will start her campaign against compatriot Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli, while Russian fifth seed Evgeniya Kosetskaya could face her opponent in the last 8 leg.

Two-time champion Saina Nehwal, Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan and Singapore’s up-and-coming Jia Min Yeo are the other top shuttles in women’s singles.

The bronze medalist of the London Olympics and fourth-seeded Nehwal, who had a difficult year with multiple injuries, will likely face seventh seed Iris Wang from the US in the quarter-finals and second seed Ongbamrungphan in the semi-finals.

In men’s singles, Srikanth will start his campaign against compatriot Siril Verma and may collide with Singaporean Loh Kean Yew in the semi-finals in a rematch of their world championship final after being proved right in the same half.

The in-form Sen will start his campaign against Egypt’s Adham Elgamal and face compatriot and world championship quarter-finalist HS Prannoy in the quarter-finals.

Prannoy, who is making a comeback after battling the COVID aftereffects, will kickstart his challenge against Spaniard Pablo Abian. Sixth seed Sameer Verma, who suffered a calf muscle injury in Denmark, will also try to get deep into the draw after starting his campaign against his older brother Sourabh.

The tournament has lost some luster due to the withdrawals of players from France, Russia and Canada and England, who withdrew after doubles specialist Sean Vendy and coach Nathan Robertson tested positive before leaving for Delhi on Friday.

As part of the COVID-19 protocols, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) has made it mandatory for all players, as well as tournament, match officials, BWF and BAI officials, support staff, vendors and others involved to have a mandatory Every day COVID testing outside the stadium before being allowed to enter the venue.

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