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India Open | Focus on Satwik-Chirag as shuttlers look to dazzle at home court

Expectations will be high as Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty spearhead the home challenge at the India Open super 750 badminton tournament beginning here on Tuesday, hoping to annex their first silverware of the new season.

With six titles last year, Satwik and Chirag have been a cut above the rest, and the runner-up finish at the Malaysia super 1000 has only spiced things up as the Indian shuttlers look to deliver at home.

The BAI’s flagship tournament, which was upgraded to super 750 in 2023, was a dampener for home shuttlers last season as none of the Indians could cross the second round.

In the 2022 edition, Satwik-Chirag and Lakshya Sen stood on the podium with the men’s doubles and men’s singles crown and the Indian shuttlers will hope to once again live up to the expectations and prove that last year was an aberration.

Satwik and Chirag have the wherewithal to go the distance this time as the duo will be charged up after coming marginally short in the final in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

“We want to do well in our home country next week, so we don’t want to relax with this, we are more hungry and next week we want to do well in front of our home crowd,” Satwik said on Sunday.

Second seeds Satwik and Chirag, who were forced to pull out ahead of the second round last year due to an injury suffered by the former, will face world No. 25 Fang-Jen Lee and Fang-Chih Lee of Taipei in their opening round.

Chirag added: “We are not done yet. India Open is coming up next week and we want to go one better.” While Satwik-Chirag will be one of the frontrunners for the title, all eyes will also be on HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen, and Kidambi Srikanth in men’s singles, especially in the absence of two-time Olympic medallist P V Sindhu, who is nursing a knee injury.

Having fared poorly in Malaysia, world No. 8 Prannoy and Lakshya will look to find their rhythm quickly, while Srikanth must have got some confidence back following his win over Jonatan Christie in the opening round last week.

Prannoy and Sen will look for a good start, having suffered first-round exits in Kuala Lumpur, when they open against Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen and Priyanshu Rajawat respectively.

“India Open has always been special. Since 2012, I have been playing in this tournament and I have a lot of good memories. Having a 750 stature is big for Indian badminton as fans can now see top players perform closely.

“So there is a lot of hunger to go out there and win this tournament,” said Prannoy, who won the world championships and Asian Games bronze medals in 2023.

Srikanth, the 2021 Worlds silver medallist, looked in good touch during his Malaysia Open first round and it will be important for him to go deep into the tournament which he won in 2015, keeping the race to Olympic qualification in mind.

The former world No.1 will open against Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu.

It is a two-way race for the second spot in the Olympic qualification with Srikanth, a 2016 Rio Olympic Olympian, currently ranked 24th and Sen ahead at 17th spot. Prannoy at eighth remains the frontrunner.

The Olympic race in women’s doubles is also getting interesting with the new pair of Ashwini Ponnappa, a two-time Olympian, and Tanisha Crasto, and Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly — both ranked 14th in Olympic Games qualification — doing well.

Ashwini-Tanisha reached three successive finals in December last year and won one of them at the Guwahati Masters.

The duo reached the second round in Malaysia and would look to continue their good run when they take on the world No. 10 Thai combination of Rawinda Prajongjai and Jongkolphan Kititharakul.

Treesa and Gayatri, on the other hand, will cross swords against fourth seeds Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida of Japan.

In women’s doubles, there will be two more pairs in contention after Ashwini Bhat K and Shikha Gautam, and Rutaparna Panda and Swetaparna Panda, were promoted from reserve.

In men’s doubles, the pair of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, and the combination of Krishna Prasad Garaga and Sai Pratheek K, were also promoted to the draw.

Denmark’s world No.1 shuttler Viktor Axelsen has pulled out of the India Open after falling sick while playing in the Malaysia Open. India’s Kiran George was promoted to the draw from the reserve list.

“After my match on Saturday, I’ve been laying in bed ill and after talking with the medical team present here in Malaysia, I’ve been advised to get additional checkup,” wrote Axelsen, who had lost in the semifinal to China’s Shi Yuqi last week, on ‘X’.

“That means that I unfortunately won’t be able to travel and be present at India Open this year, which is rather disappointing as it has been a tournament where I’ve loved to play in front of the Indian badminton fans.” The last-minute withdrawal of the top-seeded Axelsen will only brighten the chances of Prannoy, Lakshya and Priyanshu — one of whom was likely to run into him in the quarterfinals.

Odisha Open super 100 champion Sathish Kumar Karunakaran and Aakarshi Kashyap too were promoted after a couple of players pulled out.

While Satish will face Japan’s Takuma Obayashi, Aakarshi will take on China’s Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei.

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