New Delhi: The spotlight will be firmly on local favourites PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth as the latest edition of India Open gets rolling at the Indira Gandhi (IG) Indoor Stadium here on Tuesday.
The last-minute withdrawals of China's All England champion Chen Yufei and defending men's champion Shi Yuqi have certainly taken some sheen off the event, as has the non-participation of Saina Nehwal owing to gastroenteritis. The depleted women's field, however, presents an exciting opportunity to Rio Olympics silver medallist Sindhu to make up for her string of finals losses in 2018.
On the tournament eve, Sindhu, seeded first due to Yufei's absence, spoke earnestly about the need to do well at the Super 500 event. The Indian ace acknowledged that she needs to set her finals' record straight, and blamed technical errors for her stumbles.
"The problem was not mental, it was technical. Mentally, I think I was perfectly alright and giving my 100 percent, but it was just the strokes that went wrong. This year, I have worked a lot on my strokes," she said.
The World No 6 is coming off a poor All England outing that saw her going down to South Korea's Sung Ji-hyun in the first round. Sindhu admitted that the loss did hurt, but said she was happy to have tried her best.
"Obviously, I felt really bad then because I had prepared really well for All England. It just happened that I came and lost early. It was a close match; lots of ups and downs, and ultimately she won after I had closed the gap from 13-20 to 18-20. But yes, it is important to give your 100 percent and not think too much about the results," she said.
In the absence of Yufei, Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu, Ying and Saina Nehwal, Sindhu's biggest threats could be defending champion Beiwen Zhang, Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon and China's He Bingjiao. A look at Sindhu's head-to-head against the trio indicates that the Indian will not have it easy.
Sindhu enjoys a slender 4-3 advantage over Zhang, has a 4-4 deadlock against Intanon, and trails 5-8 in all career meetings against Bingjiao. Safe to say, her passage to a third consecutive final appearance is not going to be as easy as it might seem.
"I had a few weeks to train and am all set for the tournament. I hope I do my best. I was the 2017 winner and last year I was the runner-up. But I hope this time I get the title," she said.
Among men, the absence of China's Shi Yuqi due to injury means the 2017 winner Viktor Axelsen has got the highest seeding and the Dane will be aiming to win his second crown. The tall shuttler, who has a history of asthma, has been practising wearing a pollution mask, and the All England runner-up has made no secret of the fact that he is not in his peak form.
"It's pretty hard to peak at tournaments considering we play too many. I am okay now but still not at my peak condition. I am, however, confident going in. There are just two to three times in a year when you can peak physically and my target is the World Championship," he said.
"The draw is exciting, some of the top players are not here. But I don't try to focus too much on the draw and just look at the first round playing my old teammate Misha (Zilberman). I look to focus on one match at a time."
The Indian charge will be led by 2015 champion Kidambi Srikanth, who would like to end his barren patch after the high of 2017 that saw him win four Superseries titles. Srikanth's breakout year was followed by a calamitous mix of loss of form and fitness and has culminated into a trophy-less season.
The 26-year-old made a number of last-eight and final-four entries in 2018, but failed to breach the knock-outs. Upbeat about his chances to break the jinx at the India Open, he said, "I always play to win; it's a good draw and I feel it will be a great competition with so many quality international stars coming in for the tournament."
The World No 7 also made it clear that he aims to get back into the top 3. "I will have to get mentally and physically tough for that," he said.
The 2019 edition of India Open has moved to a new address from erstwhile Siri Fort Sports Complex, and the drift at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall is significantly higher than the previous venue.
"Yes, it is something that we will have to deal with. The court will be new for everyone, so there is no home advantage as such, but the crowd support will surely give us confidence," he said.
The $35,000 event will witness participation of 292 shuttlers from 13 counties across five categories and will end on 31 March.