Sat-Chi and Sindhu headline India’s push to end drought at All England Championship

The All England Championship, long seen as badminton’s traditional holy grail – even after introduction of the World Championship and Olympic inclusion – holds a special significance in Indian badminton.

Only two Indians have ever won the All England trophy – Prakash Padukone in 1980 and Pullela Gopichand in 2001. Incidentally, both will be at the 2024 edition, which starts on Tuesday in Birmingham, on the coach’s chair. Padukone has been travelling on tour since last week’s French Open Super 750, coaching PV Sindhu and Lakshya Sen, while Gopichand is the national coach with almost all other players.

But it’s not just their presence that raises hope of that drought ending this year; it’s the performance of the world No 1 pair – Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty.

Fresh from their dominant French Open title run on Sunday and having reached the final of all the BWF events they have played so far in 2024, the men’s doubles pair are overwhelming favourites for another first in Indian badminton.

Being a Super 1000 tournament, the All England also offers a chance for crucial points in the Olympic qualification race and a chance to build on the momentum from Paris, where four Indians reached the quarterfinals. The draws in Birmingham are admittedly tough for most Indians and playing for the second straight week will need them to be at their best.

Here’s a look at the Indian’s draw and chances at All England 2024:

Men’s Doubles

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty vs Mohammad Ahsan & Hendra Setiawan

Let’s switch things around and start with the discipline all eyes will be on to end India’s All England title drought. At the start of the year, Chirag had called this title one their 2024 goals: “…that there are a couple of Super 1000s we haven’t medalled at, the All England is one major tournament we have not played a final yet.”

The path to the final, though, won’t be without big challenges.

The top seeds face an interesting first-round battle – against the ‘Daddies’, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, who lead the Indians 4-3 and had beaten them the last time they played. In a way, this is a clash between the past and present of men’s doubles badminton as the Indonesian three-time world champions are 36 and 39 years of age, now unseeded against the most consistent pair of 2024.

If Satwik and Chirag pass this early test, they could play 2022 champions Muhammad Shohibul Fikri and Bagas Maulana in the second round and former nemeses Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the quarters.

Men’s doubles is a highly competitive space and the Indians have been the best at this year, reaching the finals of all the Super 1000 and Super 750 events so far. Fresh off a title and a target to achieve, it’ll be hard not to see them as the favourites.

Women’s Singles

PV Sindhu vs Yvonne Li

Aakarshi Kashyap vs Pai Yu-po

Another Indian star who is yet to reach the final of All England is PV Sindhu. The former world champion has made a solid return from the injury layoff and was playing close to her best last week at the French Open, where she lost to reigning Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei in a very close quarterfinal.

In Birmingham, she starts against Germany’s Yvonne Li, against whom she has a 2-0 record. But the real challenge comes early with a potential clash against world No 1 and defending champion An Se Young, whom she has never beaten before.

Can the seventh time be the charm?

Also in action will be Akarshi Kahsyap, who plays Pai Yu Po in the first round with a possible clash against eighth seed Han Yue if she reached the second.

Men’s Singles

HS Prannoy vs Su Li-yang

Lakshya Sen vs Ng Tze Yong

Srikanth Kidambi vs Viktor Axelsen

Priyanshu Rajawat vs Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo

Lakshya, who rediscovered his touch with an impressive run to the semifinal last week, is the 2022 runner-up at All England and would want to build on his newly found momentum. He is slated to play Ng Tze Yong, who he has a solid 4-0 record against, but the Malaysian could withdraw. He faces a potential tricky second round against fourth seed Anders Antonsen.

HS Prannoy, the only seeded Indian in singles, faced a first-round exit at the French Open to Lu Guang Zu, and will be keen to get going this week. He starts against Chinese Taipei’s Su Li-yang in what will be their first meeting. The other seed in his quarter is Li Shi Feng, who lost to Lakshya last week.

Srikanth, who beat Chou Tien Chen but lost to Lu last week, has the most difficult draw on paper – facing top seed Viktor Axelsen. However, Axelsen has not been his formidable self this season and lost in the second round in Paris. If Srikanth has to make a big push for points, this is the time to upset the Dane who leads him 10-3.

Priyanshu Rajawat starts against Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo, who reached the semis in Paris and has beaten the Indian in their only meeting. A win will put him on collision course with second seed and French Open champion Shi Yu Qi.

Women’s Doubles

Treesa Jolly & Gayatri Gopichand vs Apriyani Rahayu & Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti

Tanisha Crasto & Ashwini Ponnappa vs Yeung Nga Ting & Yeung Pui Lam

Swetaparna Panda & Rutaparna Panda vs Rin Iwanaga & Kie Nakanishi

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, still on the comeback trail after missing a large chunk of the last season, have had their best results on tour at the All England – reaching the semis in the last two editions.

Looking for Olympic qualification, the 20-year-old will hope for a hattrick of deep runs. But a very tough draw awaits them, starting with Indonesian combination of Apriyani Rahayu and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti who lead them 2-0. A win will pit them against eighth seeds Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara while the inevitable world No 1 pair of Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan await in their quarter.

The other women’s doubles pair of Tanisha Crasto and Ashwini Ponnappa, also looking for Olympic qualification, play Hong Kong’s Yeung Nga Ting and Yeung Pui Lam. The Indians beat them at the Badminton Asia Championship last month and will likely play fifth seeds Zhang Shu Xian and Zheng Yu if they win again.

The Panda sisters, Rutaparna and Swetaparna, have also made the cut and start against Rin Iwanaga and Kie Nakanishi of Japan in what is their first meeting. A win means a second-round clash against second seeds Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee.

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