The BWF World Tour Super 500 Hong Kong Open would not feature the Olympic Champion Carolina Marin nor world no. 1 Tai Tzu Ying. This opens up avenues of opportunity for several players in the women's singles division.
The magnificent performance of Chen Yu Fei in the Fuzhou China Open means she would be going into this event as, almost, a favourite. Though she can often give the impression of being exhausted, the 21-years old shuttler seems to have good reserves of energy and now, she has catapulted herself to no. 1 spot in world tour rankings.
To be in this position despite suffering two injuries this year is highly commendable. Just when everyone thought China is becoming irrelevant in women's singles badminton, the rise of Chen, which started at last year's Fuzhou China Open, along with HE Bing Jiao's performance, has brought the country back into the reckoning.
Talking of Bing Jiao, by winning the Korea Open, she ended a long period of title drought. Not having followed up that victory with another title, she would be keen to do well here also. Her first opponent would be Mia Blichfeldt of Denmark. Her compatriot will be facing Sung Ji Hyun, former world no. 1 but currently unseeded, on day 2.
The losing finalist from Sunday's Fuzhou China Open final, Nozomi Okuhara, will be among the top favourites. She may have lost to Chen but her movements and shots in the final suggested that she is very close to her best form. She should easily go through her first-round opponent, despite her being a local girl.
Okuhara's compatriot Akane Yamaguchi, on the other hand, is having a very tough time. In three out of the last four tournaments she has played, the diminutive Japanese girl has lost in the first round. Her opponent on day 2 would be Soniia Cheah of Malaysia. In normal circumstances, this should be an easy match. But going by her form, anything could happen.
Just as there are two Chinese and two Japanese girls in focus, there are two Indians also in the reckoning. World Champion Pusarla Venkata Sindhu has been struggling since her attaining that title. So has Saina Nehwal in recent times. Both are desperate for a recovery after crashing out in the very first round of Fuzhou China Open last week. Their first-round matches cannot be deemed a formality.
Ratchanok Intanon has had a very mixed season. She won the India Open and also reached the finals of Korea and Thailand Open. Being a very talented but inconsistent performer, it is hard to predict how she would fare.
Lots of fans would also be looking closely at the performance of South Korea's teenage sensation AN Se Young. Her loss in the quarterfinal last week to HE Bing Jiao was a setback. But it shouldn't matter much considering her age. Having defeated players such as Sindhu and Marin in recent times and having won the French Open, she has already proven her mettle. She should get through to quarter-finals easily here also.
Lastly, two dark mares – Michelle Li of Canada and Beiwen Zhang of USA – will play each other in the opening round. Li is the favourite as she won the Macau Open and reached the semi-final in Fuzhou.
Overall, despite the absence of two top players, there is enough stardom in this tournament to light up the arena. With the World Tour Finals not far away, stakes are also rather high.