Malaysian World No. 1 Nicol David's hunt for her seventh consecutive title commences at the Indian Squash Academy on Saturday as the biennial Asian championships get underway with individual and team glory up for grabs.

The individual events (May 1-4) will be followed by the team championships (May 5-8) where China, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and India will vie for honours.

“This is like a test event before the Commonwealth Games later in the year. India will be fielding a strong contingent and we are hoping for a good finish,” said SRFI secretary-general Srivatsan Subramaniam here on Thursday.

In the 32-strong women's draw, Nicol, the top seed and six-time winner, will compete against a horde of Asian stars including Hong Kong China's Rebecca Chiu (second seed) and Annie Au (3/4) and compatriots Delia Arnold (3/4), Low Wee Wern (5/8) and Sharon Wee (5/8). The girls' field also boasts home favourites Joshna Chinappa (5/8) and Dipika Pallikal, along with a bushel of young Indian players.

Joshna finds herself in the same half of the draw as Chiu, while Dipika — who has moved to No. 1 in WISPA's emerging players rankings following her maiden WISPA title win in Kolkata recently — might be facing Low Wee Wern in the pre-quarterfinals in a showdown between two equals.

“Dipika versus Wern should be an interesting encounter,” said India's consultant coach S. Maniam,

“They're about the same standard. Wern has the game to be a top-10 player in future, as do Dipika and Joshna. Everything depends on how psychologically tough and motivated they are from here.”

Men's defending champion Mohd. Azlan of Malaysia, ranked 16th in the world, will have his hands full against second-seeded compatriot Ong Beng Hee — whom he had beaten in the final in 2008 in Kuwait — and India's Saurav Ghosal who is seeded 3/4 here.

The Indian World No. 29, however, may have to stave off the strong challenge of Pakistan's Farhan Mehboob in the quarterfinals.

“Saurav may face a Pakistan player in the pre-quarterfinals as well as in the quarterfinals. It's a tough draw for him, but having beaten a top-rung competitor (Adrian Grant) in Kolkata last month and with decent performances in the world circuit, he's blowing hot right now,” said Maniam.

India seeded third

The defending champion in both the men's and women's categories, Malaysia has received the top billing in the team event, while India is seeded third. The host will be served by Ghosal, Siddharth Suchde. Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu and Ritwik Bhattacharaya in the men's event and by Joshna, Dipika, Anaka Alankamony and Surbhi Misra in the women's section.

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