Saina Nehwal gets a huge opportunity to enhance her growing stature as a celebrity sportsperson in the country when the Badminton Asia championship opens at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here on Monday.

The absence of world’s top-five Chinese girls makes the sixth-ranked Saina the top seed. Last year at home, the Hyderabad girl managed to justify her seeding by reaching the World championship quarterfinals in spite of illness in the days leading to the premier championship.

On Sunday next, if Saina manages to live up to the top billing, the tag of the continental champion is sure to give the talented girl the confidence for the challenges ahead this year.

Saina, who helped India qualify for the Uber Cup finals for the first time and reached the All-England semifinals, has maintained that the passage to the title is beset with potential danger in every round.

Eight players, ranked between six and 26, form the list of seeds and Saina is likely to be tested severely by three of them including second seeded Hong Kong girl Mi Zhou. Since Saina has mixed results against most of her potential rivals, she will have to show her qualitative improvement seen in recent times and prove superior.

The other strong medal-contender is the top seeded mixed doubles pair of V. Diju and G. Jwala. With the world leading pairs from Korea, Indonesia and China absent, the ninth-ranked Indian pair opens as the favourite on paper. The Chinese pair of Jiaming Tao and Yawen Zhang, followed by the two Thai pairs, ranked 10th to 12th in the world, will be among the serious medal contenders.

However, barring the support from the crowd, the Indians do not enjoy any home advantage. The process of laying the hova courts on the competition and training areas of the new stadium commenced only on Friday afternoon. In fact, one only hopes that this “test event” does not leave the Badminton Association of India (BAI) red-faced in the coming week and bring embarrassment to the country in the presence of the big names from badminton world.

The men’s singles, where the Indians are not expected to be among the medals, the field is indeed world class. The presence of Lin Dan, the reigning World and Olympic champion and Taufik Hidayat, a former Olympic and three-time continental champion promises an enthralling finale.

Though these illustrious exponents have not performed incredibly so far this year, but the class they possess should be on view this week.

Last year, at Hyderabad, Taufik won the India Open while Dan Lin regained the World title. Surprisingly, Lin Dan has won almost every title in the world except the continental honour.

P. Kashyap and Arvind Bhat, ranked 30th and 36th in the world, along with Anup Sridhar form the core of Indian challenge. But not much should be expected from them.

In the men’s doubles, third seeds Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas will do well if they manage to play to their seeding. The women’s doubles pair of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponappa, ranked 24th in the world, holds the promise of a few upsets.

After two days of qualifying rounds, the main draw action commences on Wednesday.

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