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BWF India Open preview: Sindhu favourite, potential Srikanth-Loh rematch, COVID apprehension

PV Sindhu practices ahead of the 2022 India Open. BAI

Twice canceled, the India Open returns, amid a surging third wave of COVID-19 in the country and a cloud of apprehension. The World Tour Super 500 tournament that will run from January 11-16 in New Delhi will be held without spectators in a city that's recording soaring numbers and in the absence of a bio-bubble, daily COVID testing, organisers have stated, will be mandatory for players and personnel entering the venue.

Chirag Shetty negative in re-test, to play; Kantaphon withdraws

After initially testing positive, Chirag Shetty's re-tests both in Mumbai and New Delhi returned negative clearing the way for his participation. The 24-year-old forms one half of the world no.10 ranked men's doubles team along with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. Lakshya Sen's elder sibling Chirag, was also handed a reprieve in his re-test in Bengaluru, arriving in Delhi on Monday and now features in the final draw released by the Badminton Association of India (BAI).

Men's singles fourth seed Kantaphon Wangchareon has withdrawn from the tournament and the other confirmed pullouts include fifth seeds Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy in men's doubles, top-seeded Thai pair Jongkolphan Kititharakul-Rawinda Prajongjai and Fitriani Fitriani-Debby Susanto in women's doubles. Sumeeth, whose withdrawal in the men's doubles came after partner Manu's second test result returned positive, will partner Ashwini Ponnappa in the mixed doubles.

Sindhu favorite; Srikanth-Loh drawn for WC rematch

A weak field offers two-time Olympic medalist PV Sindhu the perfect opportunity to ring in her first title of the year and her first since the 2019 World Championship. Anything less would count as a disappointment. She faces fellow Indian Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli in the opening round, Russian Evgeniya Kosetskaya in the quarterfinals and possibly second seeded Busanan Ongbamrungphan in the final.

Men' singles top seed Kidambi Srikanth will have a chance to avenge his World Championship final loss, being drawn to run into reigning world champion Loh Kean Yew in the last-four stage of this week's tournament. The 24-year-old Singaporean is coming off a training stint with Viktor Axelsen in Dubai. "I ended the year on a high so it was a good year... Nobody will always win. The pressure is there. I just hope that I can perform," Loh told BAI. The new Indian star on the horizon and World Championship bronze medalist, Lakshya Sen, could face his first test in fellow Indian HS Prannoy in the quarterfinals.

Huge Indian presence

The first tournament of the season that follows a brutal spell of events in the closing months of last year carries an overwhelming number of Indian players, accounting for half the strength in the singles field.

Loh is the biggest overseas name in men's singles and Thailand's Busanan the highest-ranked women's singles foreign player in the fray. She and Sindhu are the only two players ranked inside the top-15 in their category.

The doubles draws - men, women and mixed doubles, save a handful of foreign names including world No 2 men's doubles pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan - are teeming with Indians, almost resembling an inter-academy contest.