Saina looks to defend title; Ajay, Sourabh start in Thai GP
Bangkok: Defending champion Saina Nehwal will have her eyes firmly set on the coveted women`s singles crown while Ajay Jayaram and Sourabh Verma will lead the Indian charge in men`s singles when the Thailand Grand Prix Gold begins with the qualifiers here on Sunday.
Back in action after skipping the Sudirman Cup because of a freak toe injury, top seed Saina will have her task cut out as she opens her campaign against Shih Han Hung of Chinese Taipei in the main draw of the women`s singles on Wednesday.
The world number two Indian will have an easy run till the quarterfinals where he is expected to meet local player and third seed Porntip Buranaprasertuk, who is ranked 13 in the world.
However, it will be only in the finals where the 23-year-old from Hyderabad is likely to face her toughest opponent in Thai star Ratchanok Intanon, who has been in red-hot form and has the record of beating Saina twice in the last two encounters.
The event will devoid of Chinese attractions.
"I had good practice sessions for these upcoming tournaments. I want that I should repeat my last year`s performance. Let`s see how best I do," said Saina who will head to Indonesia and Singapore from Bangkok.
Besides Saina, P C Thulasi and Arundhati Pantawane will also start in the women`s singles. While Thulasi will open her campaign against third seed Porntip, Arundhati will take on a qualifier on Wednesday.
In the men`s singles, fifth seed Jayaram will meet Shesar Hiren Rhustavito of Indonesia in the opening round, while eighth seed Sourabh will face off with a qualifier.
"I have been training hard for the last one month. After the India Open I got lot of time to get back to training and I made good use of it by working on my overall stroke," Sourabh said ahead of the tournament.
"I am looking to be more consistent and improve. I am not looking at any particular result, I haven`t set any target. Just want to take it as it comes," he added.
Among other Indians, Sai Praneeth B will take on 2003 All England Open Champion Muhammad Hafiz Hashim of Malaysia, 10th seed Anand Pawar will clash with Riyanto Subagja of Indonesia and HS Prannoy and 13th seed K Srikanth, who stunned world number 8 Jan Jorgensen of Denmark in the Indian Open, will take on a qualifier.
In the men`s singles qualifiers, Shreyansh Jaiswal, Prem Singh Chouhan, Manish Gupta, Neeraj Vashist, Oscar Bansal and Gaurav Venkat will compete for a spot in the main draw.
Surender Rathee and Neeraj will pair up in the men`s doubles qualifiers while Manish and Gaurav will also combine to test their skills tomorrow.