When Saina Nehwal enters the court on Tuesday for the Asian Badminton Championships, she’d be doing so with a free mind.
In could be good news for India, the cream of China’s women’s team has withdrawn from the event citing its preparations for the Uber Cup finals.
China coach, Lizhiseng, refused to speak to the media, but Badminton Association of India (BAI) officials confirmed the pullout by top three seeds —world No. 7 Lu Lan, Xin Wang, ranked No. 3 in the world, and world No. 4 Shixian Wang.
All three have impressive records. While Lu is the reigning world champion, Xin won the 2009 Malaysian Open and Shixian has a handful of Grand Prix Series wins under her belt.
World No. 5 Saina admitted the withdrawals had eased the tension but added it would be a mistake to underestimate Indonesia and Malaysia. “Had the Chinese been there, it would have been even tougher. But shuttlers like Yulianti (Maria) of Indonesia, Mew Choo Wong of Malaysia, Porntip (Buranaprasertsuk) of Thailand aren’t easy to handle,” she said.
Saina, who has been given the top billing, will face Porntip in the first round and will take on the winner between Trupti Murgunde and Julia Pei Wong in Round 2. The Indian men too have a reason to smile. Top China shuttlers, Chen Long and P. Du, withdrew from the event, as they are busy preparing for the Thomas Cup finals, starting May 8.
The hosts will, however, face stiff challenge from Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat and Chinese dragon, Lin Dan. The world No. 2, who won the world title last year in Hyderabad, is in form. Also making his presence felt will be this year’s All-England finalist Kenichi Tago of Japan.
The absence of world No. 18 Chetan Anand has thrown the draw open for mates Anup Sridhar and Arvind Bhat.