India Open: Despite poor record Saina remains favourite

New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) Despite her poor record in the last two India Open Super Series, badminton star Saina Nehwal still remains the favourite at the $200,000 tournament that starts Tuesday here at the Siri Fort Complex.

The London Olympics bronze medallist made a first round exit in 2011 and managed to make the second round in 2012.

As Saina hogs the limelight in women’s singles, it is World No.1 Malaysian Lee Chong Wei who will be the centre of attraction and the favourite to win in men’s singles. The 2012 Olympic silver medallist won the tier two event in its inaugural year in 2011 and finished runner-up last year.

In the absence of Chinese duo Olympic champion Li Xuerui and World Champion Yihan Wang, Saina has been seeded No.1 in a relatively easy draw. However, Saina believes that the draw is full of talented youngsters and progressing won’t be easy.

The Hyderabadi opens her campaign in a tricky first-round match against World No.37 Indonesian Belaetrix Manuputi. The Indian overcame Belaetrix with ease at the All England last month in their only encounter so far.

But the top seed’s first test can come in the form of city-mate and fellow Gopichand Badminton Academy trainee P.V. Sindhu, seeded eighth, which will be a mouthwatering clash for all Indian badminton buffs. The 17-year-old Sindhu Thursday beat former World No.1 Shixian Wang of China at the Badminton Asia Championships in Taipei and could pose a challenge to Saina.

The World No.2’s real test could come in a probable match against World No.8 and former triple junior World Champion Ratchanok Intanon in the last-four stage. Though the Indian has beat Ratchanok four out of seven times, the hugely talented Thai teenager has beaten Saina in their last two outings, the most recent one being the semi-finals of All England.

Leading the Indian challenge among the men will be London Olympics quarterfinalist Parupalli Kashyap, who has been seeded fifth. Kashyap, world No.7, faces former Olympic and World Champion Taufik Hidayat in the opening round, against whom the Indian has lost all six matches he has faced.

Hidayat, though, well past his prime and playing in one of his last tournaments, is still a more than a force to reckon with and it will take Kashyap a mammoth effort to go past him. If the Hyderabadi manages to get past Hidayat, he face Chong Wei in the quarters.

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