HYDERABAD: It’s time for the annual pilgrimage of the badminton elite. The All England Championship will be played from March 14-18.
Barring men’s World No 1 Viktor Axelsen, who is recuperating from an ankle injury, all the stars have descended on Birmingham.Indian hopes are pinned as usually on Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu.
Although Indian singles players of the current crop have stamped their class across the world, All England remains an exception. The last Indian to lift the trophy was Pullela Gopichand in 2001. Prakash Padukone had done it in 1980. Saina Nehwal lost the final in 2015. Nobody else came close.
Vimal Kumar believes Srikanth is India’s best bet this year.
“Srikanth can go all the way if he plays to potential. And the fact that Axelsen is not there might also work in his favour,” the veteran coach said.
Srikanth has not been in good form of late, with muscle strain hampering his progress in the months after his Superseries conquests last year.
“Injuries are part of sportsperson’s career and it’s important to come back strong. I thank my support staff and coaches. I am fit and looking to get on court and play,” Srikanth told Express. “With Axelsen’s exit, I don’t think it will become easy for me as we were placed in different halves. There are other good players like Rajeev Ouseph, Chou Tien Chen, Prannoy, Lee Chong Wei.”
Asked why Indians have not been able to perform well at All England, Srikanth said, “When I won the China Open in 2014, I became the first Indian in men’s singles to win a Superseries Premier meet. It was 13 years after Gopi sir won All England. Things are changing. I strongly feel we can see many more champions in future.”
The women’s contingent is led unsurprisingly by Sindhu. Vimal opined that even Saina can have a shot at the crown. She is the only Indian after Gopichand to progress further than the quarters.
“Sindhu is the favourite among the two. But Saina’s good performance at the tournament will also come into play. She is up against Tai Tzu-ying (World No 1). If she overcomes that hurdle, she has a chance. Tai is generally shaky in the initial rounds.”