As anticipated, out-of-form World number six Saina Nehwal has withdrawn from the National badminton championship, beginning at the Siri Fort Stadium here on Monday.

Just a few hours after the Badminton Association of India (BAI) departed from the usual practice of preparing the main draw for the open events during the inter-State competitions and took the players by surprise putting up the draws for the open events, Saina sent an email to the BAI citing tiredness as the reason for pulling out.

According to Punniah Choudhary, the BAI Secretary (Events), Saina stated in her mail that she was too tired after playing the BWF Superseries Finals in Kuala Lumpur.

Saina’s last-minute withdrawal was not entirely unexpected since she has a history of reluctantly sending her entries for events in India and then citing a reason for withdrawal.

In the 2011 edition of Grand Prix at Lucknow, Saina reached the venue on the eve of the competition, witnessed the opening ceremony and left the city the following afternoon without hitting a shuttle. In 2012, she returned to Lucknow for the same event, told The Hindu that she would be playing the first round and withdrew from the opening match when holding a match-point.

It remains to be seen how the BAI justifies Saina’s withdrawal after it proudly announced that all players need to play the National championship to be eligible to represent the country.

The brighter side

On the brighter side, there is no doubt over the return of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponappa in women’s doubles. The two are determined to prove that they remain the country’s best pair for next year’s Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, where they are likely to defend their title.

The action commences on Monday, with two days of qualifying rounds, followed by the two-day inter-State championship and four days of open events.

Meanwhile, Mr. Choudhary said the decision to advance the draw was taken after some of the teams indicated that they would be reaching late for the scheduled draw, slated on December 19.

Though the draw is made with the help of a software that eliminates any chance of manipulation, the move of the BAI to advance the draw is sure to raise questions from the players.

Defending champion and seventh seed Sayali Gokhale should not be complaining since she was in the same quarter as Saina. The draw would not be changed following Saina's withdrawal, maintained Mr. Choudhary.

Former champion Trupti Murgunde, seeded eighth, is likely to face fourth seed Tanvi Lad in the quarterfinals provided she can get past the 15th seeded National junior champion Rituparna Das.

Best bet

From the bottom half of the draw, former National runner-up and third seed Arundhati Pantawane looks the best bet to be a semifinalist from her quarter of the draw that includes the trio of Ruthvika Shivani, Saili Rane and Neha Pandit.

Former champion and last year’s runner-up P.V. Sindhu is set to face fifth seed P.C. Thulasi for a place in the last-four.

Among the men, seventh seed H.S. Prannoy looks like the first serious challenger for defending champion and top seed P. Kashyap on the way to the semifinals.

Fourth seed Anand Pawar has a tough draw since his quarter includes former champion Arvind Bhat, seeded ninth, and fifth seed K. Srikanth.

Ajay Jayaram, seeded three, will have to contend with the likes of sixth seed Sai Praneeth before making the semifinals.

Second seed R.M.V. Gurusaidutt is likely to be first tested by Pratul Joshi, who last December packed off Taufik Hidayat at Lucknow.

In the pre-quarterfinals, Gurusaidutt is set to face one of the two former champions, Saurabh Verma or Anup Sridhar.

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