Saina Nehwal had barely settled down in the conference hall with national coach Pullela Gopichand when she was bombarded with questions. Everyone wanted to know everything about her — from injuries to her victory chances in her home tournament. Ever since she clinched India’s first Olympic badminton medal last year, life has been a rollercoaster for the 23-year-old shuttler.
Sure, she’s ranked No 2 in the world and is the top seed at the India Open, but the tournament will definitely not provide an easy path in her quest for her seventh Super Series title. After winning in 2010, when it wasn’t a part of the Super Series, she’s lost early in the last two years. This time, she’s drawn little-known Belaetrix Manuputi of Indonesia in the opener, but Saina knows she can be a tricky opponent.
The China menace
More importantly, Saina has two Chinese youngsters to contend with in the top half of the draw. Yao Xue (No 65) will open against PV Sindhu. If the 17-year-old Sindhu manages to get past her, she may run into Yu Sun (No 83) against whom she has a 1-1 win-loss record. These Chinese youngsters have been grabbing attention in the circuit. While Sun won the Macau Open in only her third senior appearance, Xue was runner-up at the Malaysian Open in January. There have been talk of a possible All-India quarterfinal, but if Saina faces either of the Chinese players, she will have her task cut out.
Malaysian world No 1 Lee Chong Wei spearheads the men’s challenge. Having lost last year’s final in a close contest, the top ranked Malaysian must be hungry to reclaim the title he won in 2011. India’s Parupalli Kashyap (No 7) has drawn Indonesia’s former world champion Taufik Hidayat in the opener, against whom he has lost all six previous meetings.
“We’re taking one match at a time,” was how Gopichand put it.
Fifteen players, including second seed Sony Dwi Kuncoro and eighth-seed Sho Sasaki of Japan, pulled out of the tournament on Monday. Though the official reason given was injuries, one must also consider the fact that this tournament is no longer important to qualify for the World Championships.
Till last year, the cut off date for entries (via rankings) was May 1 or after. This time it’s April 25, which falls during this Super Series. The World Championships are due to be held in Guangzhou in August.