It has been a quiet year for Indian badminton. No heart-stopping wins, no sub-plots on unlikely successes, and generally one without occasion or rousing delight. Only one Indian player, Saina Nehwal, has managed a title so far this year - at the Malaysia Masters in January.
The Indonesia Open World Tour Super 1000 starting Tuesday brings with it a fresh wave of expectations and a chance for Indian players to scramble out of the slump they are in. The tiny problem is almost all top players - including defending champions Kento Momota and Tai Tzu Ying - are in the mix and prepped to make their lives difficult and hopes tenuous.
Sindhu's chase for a title
If 2018 was all about talk of Sindhu making finals and the gold medal slipping between her fingers, this year has turned out to be about one without a final appearance. Of the six tournaments she's participated in so far since the start of the year, she's only made two semifinals. Her last title, the BWF World Tour Finals, came six months ago.
"It's not been great," Sindhu said, reflecting on the year so far. "I think I have to do much better. I have worked on mental as well as physical fitness as well my skills a lot more."
With Saina pulling out the tournament, Sindhu leads a lone Indian charge in the women's section. Placed in the bottom half of the draw, the world No.5 Indian should have little trouble getting past her first-round opponent on Wednesday, Japan's Jaya Ohori. She will run into her first serious test in the quarterfinals where she's likely to face her rival, also a Japanese, from the 110-minute long World Championship final in 2017 - Nozomi Okuhara. Their head-to-head record stands at an even seven with Sindhu losing their previous encounter, at the Singapore Open in April this year. Much like Sindhu, Okuhara too will be raging for a title, having lost both the finals - Singapore Open and Australian Open - she made this year.
Srikanth's wait for resurrection
It must be hard for Kidambi Srikanth to not be a fatalist. Around this time two years ago, he had begun his spectacular run at the Superseries - winning four of them in as many months, the most by any Indian male player. An injury-ridden slump followed. He made his first final in 17 months at the India Open in March this year, losing to eventual winner, Viktor Axelsen, who has pulled out of this tournament.
On Wednesday, Srikanth is likely to have a comfortable first-round match against Japan's Kenta Nishimoto, against whom he holds a 4-1 head-to-head record. Fellow Indian HS Prannoy faces the might of world No 2 Shi Yuqi in the opening round while B Sai Praneeth has Hong Kong's Wong ki Vincent to overcome at the start. Prannoy has been stuttering with his form and hasn't gone past a quarterfinal this year so far. Praneeth, much like Srikanth, has one final appearance - at the Swiss Open - to show for the year.
In a pre-Olympic year, the signs aren't encouraging.
National coach Pullela Gopichand has been open in faulting the 'cramped' BWF calendar, which forces players to play a minimum of 12 tournaments a year, for the recurrent injuries and the lack of consistency.
"It's been tough this season," he said. "The busy schedule and a few injuries to key players have taken a toll. We've also had a change in the coaching set-up, but I am hopeful in the next three weeks, we will get some good results."
From here it remains to be seen whether Indian players pick up pace or fall off the race.