Srikanth Kidambi and P.V. Sindhu Image Credit: AFP and AP

Former champions Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu have top billing as the India Open badminton tournament - from January 11 to 16 - takes place at Indira Gandhi Stadium.

The $400,000 Super 500 event will kickstart the 2022 BWF World Tour season. However, no spectators will be permitted due to the Covid-19 situation.

World Championships silver medallist Srikanth will compete in the men’s singles section with world champion Loh Kean Yew and bronze medallist Lakshya Sen also vying for their first India Open crown.

Men’s singles top seed and former champion Srikanth said the tournament provides him the perfect opportunity to build on his World Championships success.

“It’s a long season for all of us with the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games scheduled later this year. Starting the season on home turf gives me a perfect opportunity to start the year on a winning note,” said the former World No 1.

Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist and India’s shuttle queen Sindhu will lead the charge in the women’s singles section which also has the likes of two-time champion Saina Nehwal, Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan, and Singapore’s up-and-coming Jia Min Yeo.

The 2017 champion Sindhu feels playing without fans would be a bit of a dampener but she was as motivated as anyone to clinch her second tournament title.

“I have always looked forward to playing in New Delhi as the India Open has always had a full house crowd with a great atmosphere as winning a tournament at home is always special for any player,” she said.

The 10th edition of the tournament, which is being held after a gap of two years following the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, will see participants from 19 countries across five categories vying for the prize purse.

World Championships bronze medallist Sen is also keen to leave his mark in his first appearance in the home tournament. “I have always looked forward to playing the India Open. I had to wait for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic but I am confident of putting my best foot forward this week.”

Due to the Covid-related restrictions, strict protocols are followed and all players have to go through mandatory tests before entering the venue as the main draw starts from Tuesday.

The foreign players as well as Indian players, ranked under top-25 in the world, will be staying at the same hotel.

“All the participating players will be taking the necessary safety precautions right from their arrival in New Delhi as per protocol and will be tested every day at the hotel and from there they will be having shuttle buses to come to the stadium, play matches, and go back to the hotel again,” the organisers said in a statement. “All the players as well as match officials, BWF and BAI officials, support staff, vendors, and others involved will have to go through a mandatory Covid test each day outside the stadium, and only after being tested negative they will be allowed inside the venue.”

Meanwhile, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) on Sunday revealed that England’s team has withdrawn from the India Open after the country’s doubles specialist Sean Vendy and coach Nathan Robertson tested positive for the Covid-19, before their arrival in India.