The road to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games continues in Dubai, as the creme de la creme of Para badminton face-off at the Fazza Para Badminton International Championship.
The competition, which began on Tuesday, features 280 players from 39 countries, double the number from last year when the event was held for the first time.
Badminton powerhouses China, Indonesia and India have arrived with full teams as the sport gears up for its Paralympic debut next year. It is the first time that the Chinese are participating in such big numbers, while India are fielding the largest contingent with around 40 players, all thanks to the Tokyo 2020 qualification points available here.
“With India being a very populated country, we are trying to increase our database, have more classified players to make Para badminton as an advanced and developed sport,” said India’s coach Gaurav Khanna.
“As a coach, my vision is to find young players for the 2024 and 2028 Paralympics. The way we are highest in numbers, our aim is to be highest in medal tallies too.”
Tight contests in men’s draw
In the men’s SL 3, India’s world No. 1 Pramod Bhagat has been given top billing and is expected to fight it out with his Indonesian rival - and second seed - Ukun Raekendi. Both played in the finals of the Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games.
Also watch out for Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara, who is fresh from his silver medal at the last competition in Antalya, Turkey.
The men’s SL 4 will have No. 1-ranked Frenchman Lucas Mazur who will be aiming for the top prize and Tokyo 2020 qualification points after a shocking loss in the final in Turkey.
India’s Tarun Tarun, 2018 Asian Para Games champion, and Sukant Kadam will also look to gain some points to give wings to their Tokyo 2020 hopes. “Definitely, I will be aiming for the gold after the bronze in Antalya,” said Kadam.
The surprise winner in Turkey, fellow Indian Suhas Lalinakere Yathiraj, will also be one to watch out for.
England will be the favourites to win the men’s singles SS 6 event as world No. 1 and No. 2 Jack Shephard and Kyrsten Coombs renew their rivalry.
In the men’s SU 5, world champion and top seed Liek Hou Cheah of Malaysia is expected to challenge the Indonesian duo of Suryo Nugroho and Dheva Anrimusthi.
Strong South Korea
South Korea’s world champions Kim Jungjun and Lee Sam Seop will be among the favourites in the men’s singles wheelchair events, WH 2 and WH 1. They will also be pairing up for the doubles. But do not rule out current world No. 1 Thomas Wandschneider of Germany and triple winner in Turkey, Qu Zimo of China, in the WH 1 competition.
For the local fans, veteran Emirati Mohamed Ahmed Alzarooni will be carrying their hopes in the men’s singles WH 2 event. He will be keen to garner some points in the race to the World Championships and Tokyo 2020.
Asian stars head women’s field
The women’s matches are expected to be dominated by Indonesian and Chinese stars with the likes of world champions Cheng Hefang (SL 4) and Liu Yutong (WH 2) besides Xu Tingting (WH 2), Yang Qiuxia (SU 5) and Leani Ratri Oktila (SL 4) among others.
Japanese top seeds Ayako Suzuki (SU 5), Sarina Satomi and Yuma Yamazaki (women’s doubles WH 1-WH 2) should finish among the medals in their respective categories.
For India, No. 1 and 2 seeds Parul Parmer and Manasi Joshi, who have returned from Turkey in top form, are expected to clash for the Women’s SL 3 gold medal.
The round-robin matches started on Tuesday with the classes being divided into minimum of six groups with three players each. The top two players from each group will progress to the elimination round, with selected matches streamed live on the International Paralympic Committee’s website.