Saina starts favourite, chance for other Indians to impress
New Delhi: London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal will no doubt be the cynosure of all eyes but the India Open Super Series starting here on Tuesday, will hold more significance for the country`s other shuttlers, who would look to prove their mettle at the highest level.
While Saina will be the centre of attraction in the women`s singles category, world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei would be no less sought-after in the men`s section.
World No. 2 Saina and the Malaysian star, who won the inaugural India Open Superseries title in 2011, will spearhead the challenge in the women`s and men`s categories, respectively at the Siri Fort Sports Complex from April 23-28.
In the absence of top Chinese shuttlers, Saina has been seeded number one and handed a relatively easy draw. She will open her campaign against unseeded Belaetrix Manuputi of Indonesia in the women`s singles event.
Saina had beaten the Indonesian comfortably in the All England Badminton pre-quarterfinals last month.
In fact, the Hyderabadi is not likely to be challenged much in the first two rounds but may face some threat from compatriot P V Sindhu, who is seeded eighth in the competition.
High on confidence having defeated former World No.1 Shixian Wang of China at the Badminton Asia Championships in Taipei last week, Sindhu might pose a challenge to Saina.
"(If we meet) It would be an interesting match. Hardly we girls play each other. Being a top player, I will be under some pressure," said Saina on the eve of the competition.
Saina`s first real test, however, is likely to be against world no. 8, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand in the semi-finals. Intanon, seeded third in the competition, had recently got the better of the Indian in the semi-finals of the All England Championships.
Saina, who won the tournament in 2010, failed to live up to the expectation in the last two editions.
"2010 was good but the next two years was not up to the mark. This time I will try to give my best and get the results," said Saina.
"Being the top seed, everyone will expect me to win. But it will be really tough as there are some very good players. It is not going to be easy and pressure will obviously be there," she added.
Meanwhile, in the men's singles event, top Indian player Parupalli Kashyap has got a tough draw. The world No. 7 will be facing former Olympic and world champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia in the very first round.
Even if the Indian Olympian, who is seeded fifth in the tournament, manages to get past Hidayat, he is likely to face Chong Wei in the quarterfinals.
Other Indians in the fray in the men's singles event are RMV Gurusaidutt, Ajay Jayaram, Anand Pawar, Sourabh Varma and B Sai Praneeth who would all be keen to make the most of the home advantage.
While Gurusaidutt will be playing Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia in his opening round, Jayaram would take on the eighth seeded Sho Sasaki of Japan.
Anand Pawar, Sourabh Varma and B Sai Praneeth are expected to cross the first-round hurdle without much trouble.
Coach Pullela Gopichand said that he would want all his players to take it one match at a time.
"All players must concentrate at each match at a time," said Gopichand.
As far as women's doubles is concerned, Gopichand said he is hoping that the three Indian pairs -- Jwala Gutta-Prajakta Sawant, Ashwini Ponnappa-Pradnya Gadre and Aparna Balan-N Siki Reddy -- will be doing well in the tournament.
Over 200 international men and women shuttlers from 22 countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Denmark, Germany, England, China, Korea and Japan, besides India are participating.
The impressive line-up includes the women's world No. 4 Juliane Schenk from Germany, men's No. 4 Sony Dwi Kuncoro from Indonesia, the 2013 Yonex All-England Open women's runners-up Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand, and Olympics men's doubles silver medallist and world No. 1 pair, Mathias Boe and Cartsen Mogensen of Denmark.
The men's singles category will also see the likes of Simon Santoso of Indonesia, world No.6 Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark and Japanese star and world no. 8, Kenichi Tago aiming to lift their maiden India Open crown.
The action in the doubles events, too, promises to be a sizzling affair as almost all the top pairs are all set to battle it out.
World No. 2 Malaysian pair of Kien Keat Koo and Boon Heong Tan, star Korean duo of Ko Sung Hyun and Lee Yong Dae and the world No. 2 women's pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi from Japan, world No. 3 women's doubles duo of Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark are all geared up for their India sojourn.