The Swiss Open, which began in Basel on Tuesday, is a crucial tournament for badminton players hoping to make it to the Tokyo Olympics - it's the first event since the start of the pandemic that will count towards the Olympic qualification rankings.
As per Olympic qualification rules, each nation can enter a maximum of two entries in each event. The top 16 in singles and top 8 in doubles qualify automatically. The singles events will comprise 38 men and 38 women, while there will be 16 pairs each in the men's, women's and mixed doubles.
What's at stake?
All seven BWF World Tour events held from now till June 15 will count towards the Olympic rankings; with all the top Chinese and Japanese players absent from the Swiss Open, a World Tour Super 300 event, it's a good opportunity for the Indians participating to gather as many points as possible. For Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal, who are currently missing the qualifying cut, a good performance in Basel can boost their Tokyo chances.
What are India's prospects?
The draw offers no favours to unseeded Saina, who is likely to run into veteran Sung Ji Hyun, seeded sixth, as early as the second round. Unless she can turn her form around dramatically, Saina seems set for another early exit and might miss out on Olympic qualification for the first time after having taken part in each of the last three Olympics.
Reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin, the top seed, and current World Champion PV Sindhu, seeded second, are the only top 10 women's singles players taking part in the event. Sindhu has rarely played Super 300 tournaments in the last few years but her early exits at the Thailand Open mean that she'll be using this event as a warm-up before the All England Open later this month. Anything less than making the final will count as a disappointment for the silver medallist from the Rio Olympics.
From an Indian perspective, the men's singles draw holds the most interest. With eight entries, India has the maximum representation from any country (Thailand is next with four).
Had the Olympics been held on schedule, B Sai Praneeth would most likely have been the only Indian man to make the cut in singles. However, it is hard to gauge his current form as he suffered a first-round loss in the Yonex Thailand Open before missing the Toyota Thailand Open after testing positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Srikanth, who showed encouraging signs in the Thailand Open as well as the World Tour Finals, is seeded fourth in Basel. With Viktor Axelsen being the only top 10 player in the draw, this is a good opportunity for Srikanth to win the title, which would move him just outside the top 16 and an Olympics berth.
Before badminton was brought to a halt by the pandemic, Lakshya Sen was rapidly climbing up the rankings and he's 25th in the Olympic qualification rankings currently.
Lakshya missed the Thailand events with an injury but a good display in Switzerland and at the All England Open wouldn't come as a surprise as he has all the attributes to trouble the best players. Praneeth and Srikanth might be ranked ahead of him currently but don't be surprised if he's the first of the three to win a major event and break India's men's singles title wait.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, easily India's best performers in the two tournaments in Thailand, are seeded second in Basel. With all the top eight pairs in the world rankings choosing to skip the event, the Indian pair has a really good chance of capturing their first World Tour Super 300 title.
Where are the Indians placed in the Race to Tokyo?
Based on the current 'Race to Tokyo' Olympic qualification rankings, Praneeth (ranked 13th), Sindhu (ranked 7th) and the men's doubles pair of Rankireddy and Shetty (ranked 10th) are set to make the cut for Tokyo.
Apart from that, Srikanth and Saina are both ranked 22nd in the men's and women's singles rankings. India is unlikely to have any participation in the women's and mixed doubles events as none of the Indian pairs in those disciplines are currently ranked in the top 25 in the rankings.