The crème de la crème of Para-badminton including the World No. 1s are in action this week at the 2nd Fazza Dubai Para-Badminton International Championship that got underway at the Shabab Al-Ahli Club today.
The competition, also the second event to serve as the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic qualifier, has an entry field of 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 here with full teams. In fact, this is for the first time that the Chinese are participating in big numbers, while India are fielding the largest contingent with around 40 players, all thanks to the Tokyo 2020 qualification points available here.
“As India being big populated country, we are trying to increase our data base, have more classified players to make Para badminton as an advanced and developed sport. As a coach, my vision is to find young players for 2024 to 2028 Paralympics. The way we are highest in numbers, our aim is to be highest in medal tallies too,” said India’s Para Badminton coach Gaurav Khanna on the largest team.
For the local fans, veteran Emirati Mohamed Ahmed Alzarooni will be carrying their hopes in the Men’s wheelchair WH2 event. He will be keen to garner some points in the race to the World Championships and Tokyo 2020 Games.
In the SL3 men’s event, India’s world no. 1 Pramod Bhagat has been given the top billing and is expected to fight it out with his Indonesia rival and second seed here, Ukun Raekendi. Both played in the finals of the Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games.
Also watch out for Daisuke Fujihara, who is fresh from his runners-up show at the Turkish Para Badminton meet.
Similarly, the SL4 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 finals in ENESCUP 2019 in Turkey.
But the road might get difficult with Indonesia’s Fredy Setiawan on his way.
Indians Tarun Tarun, 2018 Asian Para Games gold medallist, 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.
Moreover, surprise winner in Turkey, Suhas Lalinakere Yathiraj will be one to watch out for.
England will also have some presence in Men’s singles SS 6 event with the likes of World no. 1 and No. 2 Jack Shephard and Kyrsten Coombs looking strong.
In 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.
Korea favourites in WH1-WH2 events
South Korea’s world champions Kim Jungjun and Lee Sam Seop will be among the favourites in men’s singles Wheelchair events, WH2 and WH1. They will be pairing up for the doubles. But fight is expected to come from World no. 1 German Thomas Wandschneider and triple winner at Turkish International Qu Zimao in singles WH1 competition.
In other doubles’ events, it will be once again Indonesia who are expected to take the top honours. Dwiyoko Dwiyoko and Setiawan will be the favourites for Sl3-SL4 title, as will compatriots Hary Susanto and Leani Ratri Oktila in the SL3-SU5 event.
The women’s matches are expected to be dominated by Indonesian and Chinese stars with the likes of world champions Cheng Hefang (3rd seed in Sl4) and Liu Yutong (top seed in WH2) besides Xu Tingting (3rd seed in WH2), Yang Qiuxia (3rd seed in SU5) and Oktila (No. 1 seed in SL4) among others.
Japanese top seeds Ayako Suzuki (SU5), Sarina Satomi and Yuma Yamazaki (women’s doubles WH1-WH2) should finish among the top 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 SL3 gold medal.
The round-robin matches started today with the classes being divided into minimum of six groups with three players each. Top two players from each group will progress to the Elimination round.
Para-Badminton will make its Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games. The sport has been allocated 90 athlete slots across 14 medal events for the Games with the qualification period starting from January 2019 to March 29, 2020.