Badminton | Other Sports

A quick guide to the All England championships

Cheerful: India hopefuls and coach Gopi Chand are a happy lot after a training session.V.V. Subrahmanyam  

What is it?

The All England Open badminton championships is one of the oldest sports tournaments in the world. Started in 1899 with only doubles — men’s, women’s, and mixed — the championships, organised by the Guildford Badminton Club, added singles a year later. Its journey over the last 120 years has been eventful; its legend has only grown.

So, it’s kind of a big deal?

Well, it was considered the unofficial world championships till 1977. After the Badminton World Federation started grading tournaments, All England was slated as a Super Series event in 2007 and upgraded to the Super Series Premier category in 2011. This edition, beginning on March 14, is expected to attract record viewers from all over the world, especially India.

What makes it special?

“It’s so magical — where do you stop and where do you start,” asks tournament director Chris Miller, who as a fan hung around the railings to get his T-shirt signed by players. Four-time men’s champion Lee Chong Wei says, “Every year I come here, I feel like I am playing at home. You can feel that it’s way different than any other badminton tournament.”

Former women’s champion Camilla Martin says, “It’s special; there is so much tradition,” while English player Fontaine Chapman says, “I think it is just the atmosphere, the buzz that the players create around it.”

To sum up, the tradition, the little details that go into the tournament’s hosting, and the trust and awe it evokes among the players make it what it is.

Where is it played?

Since it was first held at London Scottish Regiment Drill Hall in London in 1899, the tournament has been shifted eight times. It has been played at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham since 1994.

Who start favourites?

The absence of World No.1 Viktor Axelsen (ankle injury) has thrown the door wide open. Defending champion Lee Chong Wei may be 35, but his work ethic and fondness for Birmingham’s courts make him the clear favourite. Former champions Lin Dan and Chen Long will be eager to stamp their authority, too.

Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-Ying, the women’s top seed, is favoured to defend her crown. Former champion Carolina Marin, healthy again, will be keen to silence her critics. Akane Yamaguchi, who won the year-ending Dubai Super Series final, is on a high.

What about the Indian singles players in the mix?

Fourth seed P. V. Sindhu and the unseeded Saina Nehwal lead the Indian challenge.

Saina has a tough start — she faces top seed Tai in the first round — but that hasn’t affected her ambition. The former World No.1 says she wants to win the All England crown for “Indian women”. Prakash Padukone (1980) and P. Gopi Chand (2001) have triumphed at the tournament before, but India awaits its first female champion.

Sindhu, meanwhile, could run into the reigning world champion Nozomi Okuhara in the quarterfinals.

Of the three Indians in the men’s main draw, only K. Srikanth (3) is seeded. B. Sai Praneeth, who is in the same half of the draw as the absent Axelsen, now has a good chance to enter the last eight. H.S. Prannoy, too, will be eager to scalp a seed or two.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 4:16:33 PM |

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