All England C’ships: Sindhu, Sen and Srikanth begin India’s quest for elusive title

BRIMINGHAM,  Mar 15:  All eyes will be on in-form shuttler Lakshya Sen, double Olympic medallist P V Sindhu and World Championships silver medallist Kidambi Srikanth as they look to break India’s 21-year title drought at the All England Championships, which begins here on Wednesday.

The top Indian players, including Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Srikanth have failed to lift the prestigious trophy with Pullela Gopichand (2001) and Prakash Padukone (1980) still remaining the only two Indians to claim the coveted title.

While Saina had come close by reaching the finals in 2015, it remained elusive for Sindhu, who has otherwise claimed medals in all other big-ticket events such as Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

While Sindhu, seeded sixth, will once again be in the reckoning, it will be unseeded Sen who will be in focus this time, given the kind of build-up the 20-year-old had ahead of the Super 1000 event.

Sen has been in sensational form for the last six months as he added a runners-up finish at the German Open last week, following his title-winning run at India Open and his bronze medal feat at the World Championships in December last year.

The Almora shuttler will be the cynosure of all eyes as he steps on to the court against compatriot Sourabh Verma in the opening round.

Sindhu, however, exited in the second round at the German Open after a shock defeat to a lower-ranked Zhang Yi Man of China and would look to quickly recover from the loss when she opens her campaign against a tricky world no 17 Chinese Wang Zhi Yi.

The 2019 world champion shuttler might face Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi in the quarterfinals if she can get past her first-round opponent and cross second round, where she is likely to face Japan’s Sayaka Takahashi.

Saina, who struggled against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at German Open, will face a huge challenge when she opens against another another Thai player and world no 10 Pornpawee Chochuwong.

Former world no 1 Srikanth too has looked in good touch but he has not been able to go the distance in close matches and that would be high on his agenda when he opens against Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen.

A clash with fifth seed Anthony Sinisuka Ginting also could be on the cards if he crosses the opening hurdle.

For Tokyo Olympian B Sai Pranneth, nothing seems to have gone right in the last six months as he struggled with his fitness and performance.

Having recovered from COVID-19, the Indian will be keen to make a positive start to the new season but it would be easier said than done as he faces Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the opening round.

Among others, Sameer Verma could be a dark horse as he looked in good touch in the few events he had played before a calf injury ruled him out last year. He will begin his campaign against Dutch Mark Caljouw.

On a comeback trail, HS Prannoy will square off against the supremely talented Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand.

In men’s doubles, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will look to continue the momentum after their title run at India Open in January.

The duo has been pitted against Scotland’s Alexander Dunn and Adam Hall in the first round and could face world no 1 Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon in the quarterfinals.

Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun will face an uphill task as they cross swords with world no 2 pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan in the first round.

In women’s doubles, Commonwealth Games bronze winners Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy will meet Japan’s Kie Nakanishi and Rin Iwanaga in the first round.  (PTI)