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Friday, January 21, 2022

India Open badminton gets backing of players, officials amid Covid surge

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The national capital has been recording approximately 20,000 Covid-19 cases daily with the positivity rate touching 25%. Authorities have imposed a night and weekend curfew.

In spite of the surge and restrictions, the India Open—the country’s biggest badminton tournament—will go ahead as planned with first round matches starting Tuesday morning at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex here.

This is despite multiple withdrawals—due to varying reasons including Covid-19—that have taken place in the last couple of days. Despite some trepidation, most players and coaches are backing the tournament.

“Tournaments have been happening all over Europe during spikes. Lockdown is just not suitable. Till when can you continue like that?” asked India international Subhankar Dey, who will open against Denmark’s Kim Bruun on Tuesday. “People have been vaccinated. The arrangement is good. Protocols are being followed. There is regular resting. Everything should be okay. It is better that tournaments happen.”

Seasoned player Ajay Jayaram concurred. “In the end, it is the players’ choice if they want to play or not. Also, it is not as harsh as the second wave. Look at tennis; it hasn’t stopped since 2020.”

More withdrawals

Men’s doubles fifth seeds B Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri along with men’s singles fourth seed Kantaphon Wangcharoen of Thailand pulled out of the $400,000 tournament on Monday. While Attri tested positive, Reddy will partner Ashwini Ponnappa in mixed doubles. Meanwhile, K Gulshan Kumar has been promoted from the reserve list in place of the Thai shuttler.

India’s top doubles specialist Chirag Shetty, who partners Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, had tested positive on Sunday but was given a go ahead on testing negative on Monday.

Among women players, eighth seed Fitriani of Indonesia and women’s doubles top seeds Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Projongjai of Thailand have also pulled out, choosing not to travel for the Super 500 tournament.

Indonesian Yulia Yosephine Susanto, Singapore’s Yue Yann Jaslyn Hooi and US seventh seed Iris Wang also pulled out and have been replaced by Ukraine’s Polina Buhrova, Indians Keyura Mapati and Smit Toshniwal while Mariia Stoliarenko replaced Fitriani.

Women’s doubles sixth seeds Margot Lambert and Anne Tran of France also withdrew with other compatriots along with Russians and Canadians.

The development comes after Sunday’s news that men’s singles second seed B Sai Praneeth and doubles specialist Dhruv Rawat tested positive before travelling to New Delhi from Hyderabad and Bengaluru respectively, withdrawing from the January 11-16 tournament. R Chittaboina has replaced Sai.

The entire English contingent withdrew after a couple of their squad members tested positive. Doubles player Sean Vendy, who with Ben Lane was seeded fourth in men’s doubles, and his coach Nathan Robertson tested positive in London before departure.

“I don’t know what sort of tournament it will be but you have to get on with it,” said former chief national coach U Vimal Kumar. “You cannot shut shop. We have to be bold, learn to live with it. If players are fit enough and want to, they should play. Before December there was so much talk about the cricket team going to South Africa amid Omicron cases. But see, the series is being held fine. So is the Ashes and European football,” added Kumar, a national selector.

The field, already weak with participation only from 19 countries, got thinner with the withdrawals. Nine of the world’s top-10 players in both men’s and women’s singles—except world No.10 Kidambi Srikanth and No.7 PV Sindhu—will not be participating. The two Indians have got top billing in their respective categories.

Traditionally held in the March-April window, the tournament—it was not held in the last two years due to Covid-19—was advanced in a re-jig of the calendar. The last couple of months of 2021 also saw multiple tournaments held in successive weeks, tiring out players. “These were the dates given by the Badminton World Federation (BWF). What else can you do?” asked Kumar.

2014 Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap, who had pulled out due to a muscle injury, said, “Uncertainty will always be there. It has been since 2020. Just when you feel the situation is getting better, boom comes the huge spike. If I was fine for sure I would have gone to play.”

World champ in here

Significantly, the new men’s world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore will be playing. He will open against Canada’s Xiaodong Sheng and could face former world No.1 Srikanth in a repeat of the World Championship final in Spain last month.

“There are a lot of good players here and it is not going to be an easy competition,” said Loh, who posed for selfies with Indian players at the stadium on Monday. “Everyone is coming here to do well, same for me too. I want to win the tournament.”

The 24-year-old said he hasn’t had enough training under his belt after the world title and is aware that he will be the player everyone would look to beat. “I ended the year on a high so it was a good year. Nobody will always win. The pressure is always there. I just hope that I can play the best and can perform,” he said.

The tournament will be held behind closed doors without spectators or media, with players inside a strict bio-bubble with regular testing.

Courtesy – www.hindustantimes.com

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