Dev S Sukumar. Birmingham
March 8: A hundred years of the world’s greatest badminton tournament — no matter how much one associates history and tradition with the All England, it is still an incredible feeling. As the 100th version opens today, all those who are part of it — players, coaches, officials — will consider themselves lucky. There has been a buzz for weeks leading up to the big day; few events in badminton now have that effect. In recent years, the circuit has fallen into a rote, a predictable chain of events; hopefully, the All England will come to the rescue and revitalise public interest in the world’s fastest racket sport.
Organisers have planned various events to commemorate the 100th year, such as a ‘history zone’ and an ‘avenue of champions’ that will bring alive moments from earlier championships. Several former champions are expected to attend. To match the scale of the event, one couldn’t have asked for a better line-up. The greatest players of the last decade will contest — Lin Dan, who can make a case for being The Greatest; Indonesian magician Taufik Hidayat; the gentlemanly Dane, Peter Gade; the hard-working Lee Chong Wei; and an assortment of other players from various nationalities. The women’s singles, however, is short of the big names that have dominated the game — most of the top contenders are young Chinese.
The 12,700-seater NIA is a wonderful venue; built in 1991 next to a waterway, it has hosted all kinds of events — from rock shows to operas, and even a kabaddi tournament! Old-timers, though, miss the more traditional Wembley Arena, at which Padukone won the title in 1980. Seven-time winner Erland Kops went so far as to say that the NIA lacked the character to host an All England. “For me, All England means Wembley Arena,” he told DNA in October. “Of course I would still go to the NIA, but something’s missing there.”
The Indians have sent a strong contingent. Fresh from their success at the Thomas/ Uber Cup Asian Zone, India are dangerous floaters in the draw. Jwala Gutta/ V Diju are up among the top pairs, and perhaps they can seize this moment. Saina Nehwal, of course, remains one of the favourites.The seventh seed plays Dutchwoman Judith Meulendijks first before a potentially troublesome foe in Seung Bae Hee of Korea in the second round. There are six top Chinese contenders in the main draw.
Trupti Murgunde, the national champion, takes on Finland’s Anu Nieminen in the first round of qualifying today.
In the men’s singles, P Kashyap and Anup Sridhar play the qualifying draw, against Chong Wei Feng and Matthieu Lo Ping respectively. Chetan Anand has the honour of taking on world No.1 Lee Chong Wei in the first round of the main draw. The other Indian representatives are: Jwala Gutta/ Ashwini Ponnappa (WD) and Rupesh Kumar/ Sanave Thomas; both these pairs are in the main draw.