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Badminton's grandest stage is set. Here's how things look like for India's shuttle queens

Badmintons grandest stage is set. Heres how things look like for Indias shuttle queens

Imtiaz Azad

Updated: 30 July 2021 4:40 PM GMT
Badminton's oldest and grandest event, the YONEX All England Championship, is much more than just another stop on the sport's world tour. Now in its 109th year, the Championships -- attributed as the Wimbledon of badminton -- is all set to get underway at the Arena Birmingham on March 6. It was back in 1980, the then World no. 1 shuttler, Prakash Padukone, scaled the dizzy heights as the first Indian to win the All-England Championships; Pullela Gopichand followed suit 21 years later in 2001 to become only the second Indian to capture the title. It has been 18 years, and India stands yet another chance this time to break the title jinx at the All England Championship. India's moment of glory looked possible in 2015 when Saina Nehwal made it to the final. But unfortunately, she went on to lose the final to Carolina Marin. This year for the very first time, three Indians have been seeded -- two in Women's singles (Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu) and one in Men's Singles (Kidambi Srikanth). But the road ahead won't be easy as all the Indians participating in this tournament have been given a very tough draw.
This year for the very first time, three Indians have been seeded -- two in Women's singles (Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu) and one in Men's Singles (Kidambi Srikanth).
The London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, who is seeded eighth in the tournament, will begin her campaign against Scotland's Kristy Gilmour. Saina's transformation in the span of the past two years after a career-threatening knee injury has been the stuff of legends. Saina will be the oldest yet the most in-form player going into the prestigious All England Championships. After winning a bronze at the Worlds in August 2017, she picked up bronze at the Asian Games and Asian Championships and clinched gold at the Commonwealth Games. She began 2019 by reaching the semifinals of the Malaysia Masters, followed by gold at the Indonesia Masters, her first BWF Tour title in over two years. Further, her triumph at the senior National, beating P.V. Sindhu in the final, has set the moral high before she comes down to play at the Championships.
Saina's comeback was drafted with the Bronze at the 2017 Worlds after which she reached the first final in more than a year at the Indonesia Masters where she beat three players within the top-10, including Sindhu. However, despite the podium finishes at the Asian Games, Asian Championships and Commonwealth Games (CWG), her middling performances and losses continued. She succumbed six straight defeats to Akane Yamaguchi (No. 5), three on the trot to Nozomi Okuhara (No. 2) and ten to Tai Tzu Ying (No.1). At the 2018 Worlds, Saina lost again to her classic rival the reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin (No. 3) in just 31 minutes.
Did you know: After Pullela Gopichand's victory in 2001, either China (12 titles) or Malaysia(5 titles) have won the Men's Singles titles at Yonex All England
She appeared much resilient at the Denmark Open last October where she toppled Yamaguchi and Okuhara. She even matched the finesse of Tai shot for shot for two games in the final, and ultimately lost in the third. In the past couple of months, Saina has worked on her swiftness and developed a very high pain threshold which keeps her always going for the daunting challenges. It is safe to say that Saina has witnessed two generations of shuttlers at their peak. She was the first one, who created a dent in the Chinese supremacy of badminton and has kept India a constant in the world's top 10. Being the oldest among the world's top 25 female shuttlers, she has now thrown herself among the pack of players who have made the women's game most competitive ever. Badminton being a physically gruelling sport doesn't stop the 29-year-old to push herself and challenge the younger lot where Marin, 25, is the oldest. The All England Championships will throw a tough test for Saina, but she lets nothing to come between her from being strong and giving the best shot each time she steps on the court. Though Marin is out injured, Saina has been drawn to meet World No. 1 Tai in the quarterfinals. She must remember that she is ahead of others in the race to challenge Tai and the slow hall might do the trick for her. Olympic silver medallist,
PV Sindhu
who is seeded fifth in the tournament, opens her campaign against South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun. They share a head-to-head record of 8-6 in favour of Sindhu, although Sung had won two of the last three encounters. Sindhu is well-tuned to achieve the rare feat after a stellar 2018 in which she clinched the season-ending World Tour Finals title to end on a high. She became the first Indian to win a World Tour Final in a sensational style against Japan's Okuhara. Sindhu has been very consistent. It is not easy to remain at the top in such a competitive field. In 2018, she reached the finals of almost all the major tournaments. She won silver medals at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Championship and finished runners-up at the India Open and the Thailand Open. She is probably the only Indian player who has shown such consistency. With the 2020 Olympics qualification beginning in 2020, she has been taking more precaution in choosing her tournaments. She gave Malaysia Masters a miss and played the Indonesia Masters, where she made it to the Quarter Finals before bowing out to Marin. Marin being out of contention at the All England Championship, Sindhu has a big chance to seize the best of the tournament and pose as a formidable threat to Tai.
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