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Thursday, Oct 24, 2019

PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth seek to reclaim India Open crowns

The onus will be on PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth to keep the tricolour flying at the business end of the tournament starting Tuesday.

other-sports Updated: Mar 25, 2019 21:10 IST
Sandip Sikdar
Sandip Sikdar
New Delhi
PV Sindhu plays a shot against Ashmita Chaliha (unseen).
PV Sindhu plays a shot against Ashmita Chaliha (unseen).(PTI)

The pullout of Chinese top seeds Shi Yuqi and Chen Yufei have made Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu outright favourites for their home tournament — India Open — which begins in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Both the badminton stars have won the event previously and are more than capable of doing it again this time around.

Sporting a black T-shirt with ‘Strength Training’ imprinted on it, Sindhu came hurriedly from her practice session at the new venue for the $350,000 event, Indira Gandhi Sports Complex, saying the facility has a “different feel” to it in comparison to the old venue at Siri Fort.

But is there pressure on her being the top seed in front of a home crowd?

“There is nothing like pressure. I have to just give my best. It is more of a good sign as I would rather have the support of the home crowd, just take it as an advantage and move forward,” said the 23-year-old who has been a finalist here for the last two years, winning in 2017.

Last year, she had lost a series of finals after battling performances, including at the India Open, and the Indian badminton star spoke about that difficult period with startling openness.

“I have been losing finals. I thought about it a lot. At times in the finals I just didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “But during the World Tour Finals I was like this is my 9th or 10th final and I asked myself, ‘what’s going on?’ I had to change something or stick to something or just not do a certain thing. I decided I will give my 200 percent and that is how I played and won and finally got a gold. I worked a lot on my strokes. There were few particular technical points where there were unforced errors where the game totally changed. That day I was very focused ‘that this time this is not going to happen. I am not going to make the mistake again.’”

The Asian Games silver medalist is physically fit, and confident about her chances in the next few tournaments she will play in India, Malaysia, and Singapore, and of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in the process. She doesn’t expect anything to come easily.

“There are a couple of players to watch out for because you never know what’s going to happen,” Sindhu said. “Though Chen Yufei and Saina Nehwal have withdrawn, Ratchanok Intanon and Beiwan Zhang (defending champion) are still there. Even though many withdrew, it won’t be easy. Every player has some stroke, technique or strategy which can work. So I am not going on thinking it will easy against a low ranked player. Even they watch our matches and work on our mistakes,” said the Hyderabadi.

Sindhu’s real challenge will likely come in the semi-finals against Chinese third seed He Bingjiao, who has a 8-5 record against the Indian. “She is a very deceptive player. She is a lefty, so it is not easy. I have to be ready for her strokes. She is one of the most dangerous players,” she added.

Srikanth’s homegrown challenge

While Sindhu’s main opponents will be Chinese, Srikanth has the mixed blessing of having most of his training mates on his side of the draw. Though the second seed now after Danish Viktor Axelsen, the former world No 1 is a bit cautious about facing the likes of RMV Gurusaidutt, 2019 Swiss Open finalist B Sai Praneeth and fifth seed Sameer Verma.

“It is the India Open so I expect to play Indians in the initial rounds. Whether I play against a foreigner or Indian, I want to win,” Srikanth says. “But because we play and train with each other every day, it is definitely going to be very challenging. It is easier to play against a foreign player.”

Whether he admits it or not, the pressure is on Srikanth, the world No7, to deliver. It is almost 18 months since he won his last title. Following an incredible run in 2017 where he reached five finals - winning four of them - and became the world No1, it has been a downhill ride.

In that time, it has annoyed him that he managed to reach and then lose in the quarterfinals and semi-finals in a bunch of tournaments.

“A first round (loss) or a final would have been more pleasing,” he said. “I have been able to play consistently but not been able to get that win against few players after the last-8 or last-4 stage. It’s irritating” said Srikanth.

“The next 3-4 months I really want to get better, fitter and tougher, both mentally and physically. I really want to do well at the World Championships so that during the toughest times I can win the crucial points and pull out the results I want.”

First Published: Mar 25, 2019 12:46 IST

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