“I’ll play the first round tomorrow [Wednesday] and see how I am feeling,” said Saina Nehwal as she took a moment off from signing autographs for young fans at the Banarsi Das Stadium here on Tuesday evening.

These words from the Olympic bronze medallist ended all speculation about her participation in the $120,000 Syed Modi Indian Grand Prix Gold memorial badminton tournament beginning on Wednesday.

Just over an hour before Saina confirmed her participation to The Hindu, she told a press conference that she was yet to decide on playing the event. Answering questions after signing a deal with Sahara India, Saina said, “It’s difficult to play in all the tournaments. We have the (million-dollar) Korea Open coming up (in the first week of January followed by the Malaysia Open) soon. I have not yet decided (on playing here). I will decide before my first round on Wednesday.”

Similar situation

In fact, the situation was quite similar last December. Saina returned after playing the title-match of the World Super Series Finals, made an appearance on the eve of the championship, withdrew from the championship before her first round match and flew to Hyderabad to get some much-needed rest before the Korea Open.

Saina, who last played here in 2009 as the world No. 8 and won the title, has not participated in the National championship since retaining her crown in 2008. “Almost all the leading players are getting injured because of the packed international schedule,” she said.

When asked about the disappointment to her fans if she decided not to play here, Saina replied, “they will be disappointed more if I don’t win international titles.”

The indications are that the Badminton Association of India (BAI) president Akhilesh Das, and now Sahara India, were keen that Saina plays here. Unlike last year, Saina has chosen to play, at least, the first round for now.

Second seed P.V. Sindhu is far more motivated to win the title. The youngster, who enjoyed a ‘breakthrough year’ in the senior ranks by winning the National title in January, the Asian youth title and also upstaging the Olympic champion Li Xuerui, that too in China. But, a knee injury saw her fall short of defending her National crown in October.

Raring to go

“I have recovered completely now. I am playing some good badminton and hope to do well here. The field is quite challenging and no player can be underestimated,” said the 5-feet-11-inch tall Sindhu looking to end the year on a high.

Though the former Olympic champion and world No. 11 Taufik Hidayat remains the man to beat, the home interest will be around the progress of Olympic quarterfinalist P. Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram, seeded two and four. These two are eager to win an international title at home despite the presence of Indonesians Hidayat and Tommy Sugiarto, the third seed and ranked 27th in the world, in the field.

On Tuesday, when the qualifying rounds were played, the Indian men occupied all eight spots while the ladies captured three out of four. Interestingly, former National champion Trupti Murgunde made the grade by beating second seed Dhanya Nair 21-15, 22-20.

The qualifiers:

Men (8): Prakash Jolly, Aditya Joshi, Neeraj Vashist, Arsalan Naqvi, Abhinav Manota, Srujan Nandaluri, N.V.S. Vijetha and Vikas Harsha.

Women (4): Rituparna Das, Ruthivika Shivani, Trupti Murgunde and Pornpawee Chochuwong (Tha).

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