Top-ranked Indian shuttlers have reached Birmingham for the much-anticipated All England Badminton Championships 2018 — the season's first World Tour Super 1000 tournament, starting Wednesday, March 14.
A lot is expected of the Indian badminton stars at one of the most prestigious badminton tournaments in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) calendar, given the success, they enjoyed in 2017. The likes of PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth are among the favorites to help India end a 17-year drought for an All England Championship title.
First day here in England and always feels great to be back here. Looking forward to go on court and start the tournament well. Please keep supporting me as you always do. #allenglandopen #bwfworldtour1000 #1sttournamentoftheyear #teamindia #believe #achieve pic.twitter.com/5WkVh93yux— Kidambi Srikanth (@srikidambi) March 11, 2018
Notably, no Indian woman has managed to win the coveted title in the tournament's 120-year-history. Prakash Padukone (1980) and national head coach Pullela Gopichand (2001) are the only two men's singles shuttlers from India to have tasted success at All England Championships.
Fourth seed Sindhu will lead India's campaign in the women's singles category in Birmingham. She will be joined by unseeded Saina Nehwal.
Sindhu may face arch-rival in quarter-final
Sindhu, who has not managed to go past the quarter-final stages of All England Championships in the past, will start her campaign this year against lower-ranked Thailand's player Pornpawee Chochuwong on Wednesday, March 12.
The world no. 4 is heading into the upcoming tournament on the back of a successful campaign at Badminton Asia Team Championships in February in Malaysia where she had won all her singles rubbers. She had started the year on a high, falling one step short of defending her India Open title in February.
Sindhu is likely to face reigning world champion and arch-rival Nozomi Okuhara in the quarter-final. The Indian shuttler has lost two of their last three meetings, including the marathon World Championships final last year.
If the 22-year-old Hyderabad shuttler manages to get past Okuhara, she might face second seed Akane Yamaguchi in the last-four round.
Tough draw for Saina
The world no. 11 has been handed a tough draw as she will face defending champion Tai Tzu Ying in the opening round.
Saina has lost nine times in 14 career meetings to the Chinese Taipei shuttler, who is heading into the tournament after having made the final of the only two tournaments she played in the new season.
Notably, Tai, who is considered a clear favorite for the women's singles title, defeated Saina in the final of Indonesia Masters in January in just 27 minutes.
On the flipside, a win against the world no. 1 as early as in the first round will only boost Saina's confidence.
An all-Indian quarter-final on cards?
Srikanth will start as the third seed in Birmingham and will open his campaign against unseeded French player Brice Leverdez.
The absence of world no. 1 Viktor Axelsen, who withdrew with an injury, makes Srikanth one of the favorites, given his dominant run last season. The world no. 3 had won four Superseries titles in 2017, thereby becoming the only fourth shuttler after Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long to have won four or more Superseries titles in a calendar year.
The world no. 3, who suffered an early exit at India Open, skipped World Tour Super 300 events in Germany and Switzerland in the lead-up to the All England Championships. Having had an extended rest, the Guntur shuttler will be looking to get back to winning ways.
Fit-again Prannoy returns to competitive action
Meanwhile, Srikanth may face compatriot and world no. 12 HS Prannoy in the quarter-final. The latter is returning to competitive action after crashing out as early as in the first round of India Open in January following development on corn on foot.
Prannoy faces a stiff test in his opening round as takes on eighth seed Chou Tien Chen, whom he has never beaten in the three career meetings.
The 25-year-old though should take a lot of confidence from the way he had stunned big names including Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long during his career-best season in 2017.
Tough opener for Sai Praneeth
Meanwhile, world no. 14 Sai Praneeth faces fifth seed Son Wan Ho in the opening round on Wednesday. He needs to be at his best to even test the South Korean as he was never managed a win in their three career meetings so far.
Praneeth, who won the Singapore Superseries in 2017, has been struggling because of lack of consistency. The 25-year-old will be looking to turn it around and he has a good opportunity to reach the quarter-final in the absence of Axelsen, who was drawn in the same half.
Complete schedule of Indian shuttlers' first-round matches at All England Championships 2018
(Timings will be updated shortly)
Men's singles (All matches on Wednesday, March 14)
- Son Wan Ho  vs Sai Praneeth
- HS Prannoy vs Chou Tien Chen 
- Brice Leverdez vs Kidambi Srikanth 
Women's singles (All matches on Wednesday, March 14)
- Tai Tzu Ying  vs Saina Nehwal
- PV Sindhu  vs Pornpawee Chochuwong