Saina Nehwal, the doubles combination of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa, apart from Malaysia’s world number one Lee Chong Wei, return to the Siri Fort Sports Complex here with memories of another day.
In October last, these leading badminton stars claimed gold medals in the Commonwealth Games in contrasting ways. They are all looking for an encore from a packed house once the inaugural $200,000 India Open Super Series begins on Tuesday.
However, the Chinese have stayed away due to their National League but the field still offers plenty of depth in all five sections. The showpiece event will, as always, be the men’s singles, where Lee Chong Wei, world number two and former Olympic Gold medallist Taufik Hidayat and world number six, former world champion Denmark’s Peter Gade are the star attractions.
But the Indian interest will only more in the ladies singles for two reasons – the prospects of Saina winning the title and the lack of serious Indian challenge in the men’s section.
Saina, ranked fourth in the world, was hopeful of repeating her title-winning sequence. Winner of the Swiss Open this year, Saina said, “It is going to be tough but I am confident of doing well again. I have trained hard and my ankle is much better,” assured the Hyderabad girl, who has been nursing an ankle injury in the season so far.
Saina is drawn to play Japanese girls Ai Guto in the opening round with the prospect of facing Indonesia’s Maria Kusumastuti before the much-awaited quarterfinals against Japan’s Eriko Hirose. Hirose had ended Saina’s run in the All England championship in March but the Indian avenged the defeat the following week on way to the Swiss Open title.
The presence of other Indian girl, National champion Aditi Mutatkar, does not promise much. Four other qualifiers, mostly Indians, will complete the 32-player draw on Tuesday evening. In the men’s singles, India’s best hope P. Kashyap is drawn to play Hidayat in the second round. National champion Arvind Bhat, Ajay Jayaram, Guru Sai Dutt and Anand Pawar are the other Indians in main draw.
Some more will join after Tuesday’s qualifying rounds. Besides, Saina, the country’s best title prospect is in the ladies doubles were Jwala and Ashwini are confident of going all the way. Seeded eighth, the Indian girls gain strength from the fact that they have beaten the top two Japanese seeds, favourite Madeka Miyuki-Suetsuna Satoko and Fujii Mizuki-Kakiiwa Reika, at least once.
“We skipped the Asian championship to prepare for this event,’ said an articulate Jwala and continued, “we are well prepared but I do not want to look beyond the first match. We will take it as we go along.” Jwala did feel sad about the fact that the event has not been publicised at all. “On my way to the hotel (from the airport), I noticed that there was not a single hoarding any where. Even outside the stadium, there is nothing. It really feels sad.”