Lakshya Sen was surfing on a pretty high career wave exactly a year back. Having clinched a bronze at the 2021 World Championships in December, the 21-year-old claimed the India Open crown in January following it up with a runner-up performance at the German Open in March.
The shuttler from Almora made the headlines yet again a week late when he became only the fifth Indian to reach the finals off the All England Open Badminton Championships.
Birmingham has been fortuitous venue for the shuttler from Almora having also clinched the Commonwealth Games gold there last year in August. Sen will return to the English town with an aim to finish what he started last year – become only the third Indian after Prakash Paudkone and Pullela Gopichand to win the celebrated tournament.
But the pathway is laden with multiple obstacles, starting with Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen in Round 1, who won bronze at last year’s World Championships. Sen is yet to beat the fifth seed but had it in him to push the previous two contests into the third game.
The road isn’t exactly easy for world No 12 Sen’s compatriots HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth – the other two Indians in the men’s singles draw. The 32 chosen for the are the finest in the world with tough competitions from the opener itself at the $1.25 million tournament.
India’s highest-ranked player Prannoy has been in good form in the past year, earning big wins against top players but somehow not managing to win tournaments – apart from the glorious Thomas Cup chapter last year. The world no 9 will open against Wang Tzu Wei of Chinese Taipei against whom Prannoy has a 4-3 record. Former world No 1 Srikanth Toma Junior Popov of France in Round 1.
All three will run into seeded entries in either the first or the second rounds making competition tougher as they progress at Arena Birmingham.
India’s biggest hope is unquestionably PV Sindhu who has a knack of coming good in major tournaments. However, the All England Open is one top event which has not been her best hunting ground, having never made it past the semi-finals. But perhaps the whiff of air has changed in Birmingham with the former world champion having won her last title – the Commonwealth Games gold – in the same town.
The double Olympic medallist was out for five months at the end of 2022 and her comeback to the circuit this year hasn’t been too fruitful either after two first round exits in Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi which was followed by the announcement of her splitting with coach Park Tae-sang.
Sindhu will take on China’s Zhang Yi Man in the opener and will be likely up against another Chinese in Round 2 – fifth seed He Bing Jiao. The only other Indian in the draw, Saina Nehwal – who is the only Indian female to have reached the All England Open final way back in 2015 – will take on Han Yue with the Chinese having a 3-1 advantage.
Men’s singles: Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, HS Prannoy
Women’s singles: Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu
Men’s doubles: MR Arjun/Dhruv Kapila, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty
Women’s doubles: Treesa Jolly/P Gayatri Gopichand, K Ashwini Bhat/Shikha Gautam
Mixed doubles: Ishaan Bhatnagar/Tanisha Crasto