Badminton in Times of Covid-19: PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth Eye Glory at India Open

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Star Indian shuttlers P V Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth will look to carry the momentum from last season and make winning starts to the new year when they begin their campaign at the India Open, which returns after being cancelled twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lot of ranking points will be up for grabs at the USD 400,000 Super 500 tournament which is being held in the looming shadows of a raging third wave of the pandemic in the country with cases rising at a rapid speed, fuelled by the new Omicorn variant.

Top shuttler B Sai Praneeth and doubles player Dhruv Rawat have already pulled out after testing positive in the pre-departure testing.

Another men’s doubles player Manu Attri, who formed the fifth seeded pair with his partner B Sumeeth Reddy, also pulled out of the tournament on Monday after his RT-PCR test came positive again.

“I had a cough and tested positive yesterday. I have withdrawn from the event today. I have to see how it affects my health and if I can play Syed Modi next week,” Attri told PTI.

Top doubles player Chirag Shetty, however, was cleared to play after his RT-PCR test came negative after he failed the test the first time on Sunday.

He along with his partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, are seeded second and will now compete in the tournament with an opening round match against compatriots Ravi and Chirag Arora.

Despite the spectre of COVID, many top Indian and foreign players have descended on the national capital for the year’s first event.

Besides Sindhu and Srikanth, many top players such as newly-crowned world champion Loh Kean Yew, three-time world champion Indonesian duo of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, top Malaysians Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi will also be seen in action at the event which will take place behind closed doors at the Indira Gandhi stadium here.

Among Indians, all eyes will be on two-time Olympic medallist Sindhu and world championships silver and bronze medallists Srikanth and Lakshya Sen respectively, to deliver the goods at the country’s flagship event.

Sindhu embarked on a consistent run last season as she claimed a second Olympic medal and also secured a silver at World Tour Final besides making the final at the Swiss Open and few semifinals finishes but a title eluded her.

The 26-year-old from Hyderabad, whose last title was the 2019 World Championships, will be itching to regain the India Open title which she had first captured five years back in 2017.

Sindhu will begin her campaign against compatriot Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli, while Russian fifth seed Evgeniya Kosetskaya could be her opponent in the last-eight stage.

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

The London Olympics bronze medallist and fourth seed Nehwal, who endured a tough last year plagued with multiple injuries, is likely to square off against seventh seed Iris Wang of USA in the quarter?finals and second seed Ongbamrungphan in the semifinals.

In men’s singles, Srikanth will begin his campaign against compatriot Siril Verma and might clash with Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew in the semifinals in a rematch of their World Championships final after being drawn in the same half.

The in-form Sen will start his campaign against Adham Elgamal of Egypt and could face compatriot and World Championships quarter-finalist HS Prannoy in the quarterfinals.

Prannoy, who is making a comeback after battling post COVID after-effects, is set to kickstart his challenge against Spaniard Pablo Abian. Sixth seed Sameer Verma, who had suffered a calf muscle injury in Denmark, will also look to go deep into the draw after starting his campaign against his elder brother Sourabh.

Women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy are seeded second and will open their campaign against fellow Indians janani Ananthakumar and Divya R Balasubramanian.

A lot of Indian players have been promoted from the reserves after the withdrawal were considered at the manager’s meeting on Monday.

The tournament had lost some sheen with the withdrawals of players from France, Russia and Canada and England, who pulled out after doubles specialist Sean Vendy and coach Nathan Robertson tested positive before departing for Delhi on Friday.

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

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