CHENNAI: Viktor Axelsen continues to purr. So does Akane Yamaguchi. The top singles (men's and singles) players, who secured the season-opening Malaysia Open last week, will be determined to maintain their dominance when the upgraded India Open Super 750 event in New Delhi commences on Tuesday.
Such is the relevance of this event, which was previously a BWF Super 500, that the cream of the sport will be assembling in the capital city to get a head start ahead of the vital Olympic qualification phase which starts in May. Apart from Axelsen and Yamaguchi, there are players like Chen Yu Fei, the Olympic champ, and 2021 world champ Loh Kean Yew. Carolina Marin and three-time winner Ratchanok Intanon are other big names in the draw. But the focus undoubtedly will be on the Indians.
PV Sindhu, who returned to action after injury in January this year, will be expected to lead the challenge along with the likes of the in-form HS Prannoy and defending champ Lakshya Sen. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who tasted success in the same venue (KD Jadhav Indoor Hall) last year, will also look to maintain their hot streak.
However, given the quality of the field, it is going to take a massive push for the Indians to make a notable impression. The draw, as was expected, is a tricky one. Prannoy and Lakshya, like in the recently-concluded Malaysia Open, will be facing each other in the first round itself. Moreover, Axelsen, who has made a habit of forcing rivals into submission, is in the same half of the draw. Kidambi Srikanth, the other Indian in the draw, is his opening-round opponent. Needless to say, the Indian, who's a former World No 1, will have to produce a near-perfect game to have any chance of coming out on the winning side.
Despite suffering a loss against his senior counterpart in Malaysia and the depth of the draw, Lakshya is not daunted. "My ultimate aim is to defend my title. But I am going to focus on one match at a time. Prannoy and I have played many times in the last year. But most of those matches were at the quarterfinal stage. But this time we are playing back-to-back first-round matches and I need to treat it as any other match," he added.
For Sindhu, meanwhile, it's going to be an equally stiff test. Despite her rich returns in the past, the Indian is coming after an injury layoff and she is bound to take some time to find her rhythm. She said as much. "I was happy that I could play my best (on her return in Malaysia). It was three games and overall, I was satisfied with the way I played. Coming back after an injury is not an easy thing. After returning, it takes a lot of time to regain that confidence level. I'm happy that I could play my best and winning and losing is part of life but you need to be satisfied with what you've done," she said on the eve of the event when queried about how she's feeling.
The double Olympic medallist will face Thailand's Supanida Katethong in the opening round. Even though Sindhu has an edge over Supanida in the head-to-head, that doesn't ensure the Indian an easy path. In fact, Supanida's only win against the more-accomplished Indian came in this very event last year. Sindhu is mindful of the threat she possesses. "Every round is comparatively harder (with the increase in the level of the event). It won't be easy against Supanida (Katethong) in the opening round. You can't take it easy. I have played against her on a few occasions and I lost against her in this event last year. I hope this time it's going to be the other way around," she said.
With Sindhu's big presence and the rest of the field, the event promises plenty of quality action.