A spate of withdrawals hit the India Open—the biggest badminton tournament held in the country—on Sunday, just two days before the commencement of the $400,000 event at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex here.
Men’s singles second seed B Sai Praneeth and doubles specialist Dhruv Rawat tested positive before travelling to the national capital from Hyderabad and Bengaluru respectively and have pulled out of the January 11-16 event.
Rawat’s withdrawal means his entry with Shikha Gautam in the mixed event stands cancelled. “Their RT-PCR test before travelling for New Delhi has come positive,” the Badminton Association of India (BAI) said on Sunday.
The entire English contingent also withdrew from the Super 500 event 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 for New Delhi.
“Entire Badminton England team had withdrawn two days back and are not in India. India Open 2022 is on track and all players who were tested at the hotel this morning as per protocol have come negative,” BAI stated.
Already short of international participation (only from 19 countries), the field has got weaker with the withdrawals, making it easier for Indian participants to gain important points in the first tournament of the new season.
Nine of the world’s top 10 players in both men’s and women’s singles will not be participating and world No 10 Kidambi Srikanth and world No 7 PV Sindhu get 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 and will be held this time amid a surge of new positive cases—was advanced in a re-jig of the calendar by Badminton World Federation (BWF), coinciding with the New Year holiday season. In addition, the last two months of 2021 saw multiple tournaments held in successive weeks, tiring out players.
Significantly, the new men’s world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore will be playing, opening against Canadian Xiaodong Sheng. He could face former world No 1 Srikanth in a repeat of their world championships final in Huelva, Spain last month.
“It’s a long season for all of us with the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games scheduled later this year. Starting the season on home turf gives me a perfect opportunity to start the year on a winning note,” said Srikanth, who picked up silver at the Worlds after losing the final.
The tournament will be held behind closed doors without spectators or media. The players will be in a strict bio-bubble with regular testing. “We have taken all possible precautions for the safety of the players and officials and we will try to engage fans through various online platforms and live broadcast on television,” BAI secretary general Ajay Singhania said.