Can Sindhu capitalise on Marin’s absence at All England?


March 11 marked 20 years to the day that Pullela Gopichand became the last Indian to win the prestigious All England Open Badminton Championships. The only other Indian to win the tournament was Prakash Padukone in 1980.

In the 20 years since Gopichand’s win, Saina Nehwal has been the only Indian to reach as far as the final. She lost to Carolina Marin in 2015 after winning the opening game in the final.

With the latest installment of the tournament set to start on Wednesday, here’s a look at some of the storylines.

Can Sindhu capitalise on Marin’s absence?

Carolina Marin’s last-minute withdrawal owing to injury means that none of the top three players in the world will be taking part in the tournament this year as Tai Tzu Ying and Chen Yufei had anyway not entered the draw.

It also means that of the 32 women in the singles draw, Nozomi Okuhara is the only one to have won the tournament previously, with Marin (2015), Tai (2017, 2018 and 2020) and Chen (2019) accounting for five of the last six titles.

Other than Okuhara, Akane Yamaguchi and Ratchanok Intanon are the only women in the draw who are ranked higher in the world than PV Sindhu.

Sindhu has reached the semifinals only once in eight previous appearances at the tournament. That came in 2018 and the woman she lost to the in that semi – Yamaguchi – will again be the biggest roadblock for her.

Sindhu and Yamaguchi are likely to meet in the quarterfinals, but Yamaguchi last played at the All England Open in 2020, and has been out of action for a year now. Even though Sindhu lost each of their last three matches, she does lead 10-7 in the career head-to-head and has had plenty of competitive match practice this year. If Sindhu can get past Yamaguchi, we might be in for a Sindhu-Okuhara battle in the final yet again.

No respite for Saina

It has been clear for some time now that Saina Nehwal is no longer the force that she used to be. However, she has been remarkably consistent at the oldest badminton tournament in the past, making the quarterfinals in all but one year from 2010 to 2019.

With her ranking having slid to 19th in the world, the draw does not do her any favours yet again. She will run into the in-form Dane Mia Blichfeldt, who’s currently in the best form of her life and ranked seven places above Saina in the world rankings. Blichfeldt defeated Saina in their only previous match at the 2019 World Championships after saving match points in what was a significant upset back then.

The tables have turned since then and any result other than a Blichfeldt win would count as an upset here.

Will Kidambi Srikanth finally break his big tournament quarterfinal jinx?

Srikanth is the only Indian man to win multiple Superseries titles and one of only three Indians in history to be ranked world no. 1. However, one glaring miss from his CV is lack of silverware at the biggest tournaments.

He has never been beyond the quarterfinals at the Olympics, World Championships and the All England Open. This year presents a great opportunity for him to finally break that jinx. With four of the top 10 players missing, Srikanth finds himself seeded eighth.

He was in good touch at the Swiss Open too, where he lost to eventual champion Viktor Axelsen in the semis. World no. 5 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting is the likeliest quarterfinal opponent for Srikanth here and he has a 2-2 career head-to-head record against the Indonesian.

Srikanth has the game to beat Ginting and this might be the year where he becomes the first Indian man since Gopichand to reach the last four at the tournament.

Chirag/Satwik run into returning giants

When in full flight, there are few better sights in badminton than watching Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo make a mockery of most opponents. The top ranked men’s doubles pair has not played since losing the final of the All England Open last year as Sukamuljo tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.

They have a relatively straightforward opening two matches and their first real test will come in the quarterfinals, where they are likely to run into Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who are seeded sixth.

The Indonesians have won all their nine career meetings and will want to win their third title at the tournament after 2017 and 2018 to set the tempo for the Olympics and World Championships later this year.

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