Dev S Sukumar/ DNA
Ten years after an Indian last won the world’s most famous badminton tournament, his protégé will attempt to repeat that feat. The 101st All England Open Badminton Championship begins at the picturesque National Indoor Arena, Birmingham on Tuesday, and among several contenders will be world No.5 Saina Nehwal.
The Indian had a fabulous 2010 with three Super Series titles and a Commonwealth gold, but the new season has begun in less-than-ideal fashion. An injury picked up during the Hong Kong Super Series – which she won – meant that she missed the season-opening Malaysian Open, and was physically below par during an early exit at the Korea Open.
This year’s All England offers a sticky sort of draw. Up first is the tough Bae Seung Hee – the Korean she beat in the second round of the same tournament last year. It had been a tough match – the Indian won the first game easily at 21-11, but the second was a tense battle, and the Indian won it 22-20 on the strength of her experience and composure. “I had some problems putting away the smashes because her defence was so good,” she was to say after that match. “I’m just happy that it didn’t go to a third game. It was quite tense.” Saina went on to reach the semis, where she found eventual winner Tine Baun’s reach and big smashes hard to handle.
The second round appears relatively easier, but the quarterfinal might see her against world No.2 and last year’s finalist Wang Yihan, assuming the Chinese shakes off a recent injury. Her compatriots are of course the most potent force in the draw – with world No.1 Wang Shixian, No.3 Wang Xin and No.6 Jiang Yanjiao all capable of taking the title.
The one big casualty is reigning champion Tine Baun, out with a heel injury. German Julianne Schenk will thus head the European challenge.
Among the men, one needn’t look beyond the usual suspects – No.3 Lin Dan, No.1 Lee Chong Wei and No.4 Peter Gade. India’s P Kashyap has a tough opener against German left-hander Marc Zwiebler.
In the paired events, Rupesh Kumar/ Sanave Thomas take on the young Malaysian pair Teik Chai Gan/ Bin Shen Tan, while Jwala Gutta/ Ashwini Ponnappa are almost assured of a second-round place with an easy first match. The mixed doubles pair of Jwala/ Diju, who have slipped a bit since their amazing run in 2009 – because of Diju’s back injury – will hope to revive their success with a strong showing at the All England. They unfortunately have drawn a strong Korean pair first-up; a victory would show that they’re back on track.
Indians in fray
Saina Nehwal vs Bae Seung Hee (Kor)
P Kashyap vs Marc Zwiebler (Ger)
Rupesh/ Sanave vs Teik Chai/ Shen Tan (Mas)
Jwala/ Ashwini vs Maria Helsbol/ Anne Skelbaek (Den)
Diju/ Jwala vs Yoo Yeon Seong/ Kim Min Jung (Kor)
Qualifying draw: Ajay Jayaram vs Eric Pang (Den); Anand Pawar vs Rune Ulsing (Den)