The prestigious Yonex Sunrise India Open that begins on 26 April at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi might just prove to be a watershed event for India, in terms of providing a boost to both badminton and sports overall.
This, the first event of its kind here, will bring some of the world’s best shuttlers to the country. Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia), Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia) and Boonsak Ponsana (Thailand), ranked Nos. 1, 3 and 6, respectively, in the men’s field, will lock horns with some of India’s top players. The women’s field is a little weaker, with the top two players, Shixian Wang and Yihan Wang, staying away.
First lady: Saina Nehwal is one of the top players in the tournament. AFP
Till a year ago, this event was known as the Indian Grand Prix Gold. It attained Super Series status, a higher level of competition than the Grand Prix, in 2011. Among world badminton tournaments, the Super Series is second only to the Super Series Premier events. “It’s always essential to have world-class sporting events in your country,” says Viren Rasquinha, COO, Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), a non-profit organization that helps talented sportsmen realize their Olympic dreams. “Even in cricket, the most important events are regularly held in India. The Super Series will bring the best shuttlers to the country and give the Indian public a chance to see the best talent in the sport.”
With 9,200 ranking points being awarded to the winner of the tournament, and more prize money ($200,000, or around Rs 90 lakh) than what the Grand Prix events have to offer, the Super Series will witness the crème de la crème of the sport competing for the top prize.
World No. 3 Saina Nehwal’s coach Pullela Gopi Chand lauds the contribution of players such as her in drawing the attention of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to India. “Not just Saina, players like Jwala Gutta and others have gone a long way in putting India on the current map of world badminton. The Super Series owes a lot to them,” he says.
Nehwal also happens to be the top seed for the tournament since the world’s top two players have opted out. With a bagful of ranking points up for grabs, it’s an opportunity for her to charge up the world rankings. “The women’s field is indeed lacklustre compared to the men’s. But it will provide our players with a great opportunity to gain experience,” says Gopi Chand.
The men’s contingent is upbeat about its chances in a field brimming with higher-ranked players. Although P. Kashyap, the world No. 23, believes Wei is head and shoulders above everyone else, he is confident about his chances against the remaining players. “The draw has been unkind, but I know that if I perform to the best of my abilities, I even have a good shot at winning the tournament,” he says, cognizant of the odds of running into Hidayat and world No. 11 Sung Hwan Park early on.
“I have always done well at home. I reached the semi-finals at the Commonwealth Games (in 2010 in Delhi) and hope to go one better in this tournament,” says Kashyap, groomed by the OGQ. World No. 57 R.M.V. Guru Sai Dutt, another player under the OGQ umbrella and a Super Series debutant, believes the home crowd will sweep away the fatigue of shuttling across continents over the last few weeks.
The infrastructural fillip to the sport during the 2010 Commonwealth Games is expected to help. “The world-class infrastructure that we now have at our disposal shall also help tap the mass base that badminton always possessed in our country. More crowds will now fill the arena,” says Rasquinha.
With the London Olympics just a year away, every player is going the extra mile to stack up as many points as possible. The points from this tournament won’t directly be counted for the Olympic Qualifiers, for the count will only take into account tournaments between 2 May 2011 and 29 April 2012. The top 38 players in the BWF ranking as of 3 May 2012 will qualify for the Olympics. Yet, as Gopi Chand points out, this tournament will help players earn valuable ranking points, enabling them to play in more Super Series and Premier tournaments.
The Yonex Sunrise India Open will be on from 26 April-1 May at the Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi.