PV Sindhu looked in real danger of missing out on the BWF World Tour Finals for the first time in five years before a quarterfinal appearance at the Toyota Thailand Open combined with a slice of good fortune helped her sneak into the traditional year-end tournament. Sindhu was only ranked 10th in the World Tour rankings but Nozomi Okuhara's inability to participate and the rule allowing only two maximum entries from each nation helped Sindhu make the cut as the eighth and final qualifier.
There were no such worries for Kidambi Srikanth though as he comfortably made the cut in spite of playing just two matches in the last fortnight.
Here's all you need to know about the year-ender set to take place in Bangkok, Thailand from January 27-31.
How big is this tournament?
The World Tour Finals is an extremely prestigious event and offers more prize money than any other World Tour event. This year the tournament is offering a total prize money of USD 1,500,000. PV Sindhu is the only Indian to win the tournament, she went all the way in 2018.
What's the format of the tournament?
The tournament features the eight highest-ranked players in the World Tour rankings in each of the five events: men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles. The eight entries are then divided into two groups of four each. The group matches are played in a round-robin format, with the top two finishers in each group progressing to the semis.
How have Sindhu and Srikanth fared historically?
As has generally been the case with Sindhu throughout her career, she generally is at her best at the biggest and most prestigious tournaments and she has had a lot of success at the tournament in the past. After making the semis in her maiden appearance in 2016, she was a losing finalist in 2017 before winning the title in 2018 after defeating former world champion Okuhara. The only year she failed to make the semis was 2019.
Srikanth has been at the tournament three times (2014, 2015 and 2017), but his record makes for particularly dismal reading. He was a semifinalist in his maiden appearance but failed to win a match in 2015 and 2017. In terms of his overall record at the tournament, he has only won two of the 10 matches he has played.
How do their prospects look this year?
Srikanth finds himself in the relatively easier group as all the four players in the other group are ranked in the top 10 in the world, with as many as three of them ranked in the top six. By contrast, Srikanth's group has two players ranked in the top 10 (Anders Antonsen and NG Ka Long Angus) and only one ranked in the top six (Antonsen). At 14, Srikanth's world ranking is the lowest of the eight qualifiers.
What would give Srikanth confidence is the fact that he has good head-to-head records against all the players in his group. He has never lost a game to Wang Tzu Wei in three career meetings and his H2H against Antonsen is 1-1, and 2-2 against NG Ka Long.
Sindhu, though, finds herself in the tougher group. Of the four players in the other group (Group A), only Carolina Marin is ranked higher than Sindhu. Group B comprises world no. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, former world champion Ratchanok Intanon and world no. 13 Pornpawee Chochuwong.
Sindhu trails 5-12 in the career head-to-head but she has won all her matches against the Taipei player at the Olympics, World Championships and World Tour Finals. Sindhu's first match in the tournament is against Tai and the result of that match might be crucial to how far she goes in the tournament. Win and she might have a fairly unimpeded road to a potential final against Marin. However, a loss in the opener might make her match against Intanon a must-win.
Intanon has a narrow 5-4 lead in the career H2H but almost all of Sindhu's matches against the Thai touch player have followed a familiar script, with the winner of the opening game usually going on to run away with the match.
Sindhu is a notoriously slow starter in tournaments and she'd need to keep that tendency at bay if she has to make a deep run. The match against Chochuwong is likely to be the easiest for Sindhu as she has only lost once to her in four meetings and Chochuwong has struggled to handle the pace at which Sindhu plays in the past.
Srikanth is an explosive player and if he can summon his best attacking game, he's likely to have too much firepower for any of his opponents. The only worries for him would be the lack of matches under his belt and his tendency to sometimes crumble under pressure at the biggest tournaments.
While Srikanth would be one of the favourites from his group to advance, it is Sindhu who has the better chance of going all the way, especially if she can start with a win against Tai.