Less than a week since the star-studded Senior Nationals in Nagpur, Indian presence at the upcoming China Open is worryingly thin. At least six Indian players have pulled out of the penultimate Superseries Premier event of the year so far in what appears to be a large casualty toll. While close to half the number is injury-induced, few other players are catching a quick breather before heading into the business end of the year.
In the men's singles draw which originally had seven Indian names, only HS Prannoy and Sourabh Verma now remain, while Pranaav Jerry Chopra has withdrawn from the mixed doubles competition. The women's singles line-up though remains undiminished with both Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu on course to an appearance.
Still, the dominant feeling that conjoins most of these players, whether injured or not, is one of exasperation at a jam-packed schedule, with the latest addition - the Nationals - now thrown in.
"While we enjoyed playing the Nationals, it's a struggle to fit it into our already punishing calendar with so many back-to-back international events," said a top Indian player.
The Nationals was placed in a relatively quiet spot straddled between the end of two Superseries events - the Danish and French Open - in October and ahead of the China Open (November 15 to 21), Hong Kong Open and the year-ender in Dubai. Fresh injuries were sustained and earlier ones flared up during the week-long tournament Nagpur. Chopra, for instance, picked up a quadricep injury while diving to retrieve a shuttle during the mixed-doubles final, while Ajay Jayaram hobbled off the court in the quarter-finals.
China and Hong Kong Open (November 21-26) are the only remaining Superseries events ahead of the Dubai World Superseries finals in December and for some like Prannoy, this is a last-ditch attempt at scrambling into the chosen eight.
"I would have to make the semi-finals in both China and Hong Kong to have a chance," says Prannoy, who is placed in 11th position in the Destination Dubai standings. Only the top eight players or pairs in the Superseries rankings (not to be confused with world rankings) after the final Superseries tournament qualify for the $1000000 Finals.
Sai Praneeth, who is placed lower than Prannoy (at No. 13 and separated by 950 ranking points) in the Dubai rankings, acknowledges that his chances are quite slim.
"Both mentally and physically I wasn't feeling fit so I thought I'd train for a week and then play in Hong Kong. I think I might have been in a better position to qualify (for Dubai) had I played in China but now I'd have to at least make the finals in Hong Kong to have any chance for that," he says.
Kidambi Srikanth, who is at the top of the heap with four Superseries titles this year and a staggering 59500 ranking points, has chosen to skip the China event and passed up on a chance to become world No 1. He, along with the majority of absentee Indian men's singles players, will be seen next at the Hong Kong Open later this month.
However, coach Vimal Kumar believes the blame for the sparse Indian participation at the China Open can hardly be pinned on the Nationals.
"The top players had to just play for three days in Nagpur. Yes some of them might have been coming off a full schedule but I don't think the it fits in well as an excuse for fatigue or injury. The Nationals is necessary and the presence of our star players even more so. Unless you're playing through the length of tournaments and winning titles every other week, like say a Srikanth, there's little room for complaint."