Much has been said about how the Indian badminton is looking up. No doubt, the exploits of Saina Nehwal and her good friend P. Kashyap have shown the way to many younger players. Increased participation in overseas events, at all levels, has raised the self-belief of the budding home-grown champions. They train hard and firmly believe that they can get better.

To test their preparedness, there is no better place for these aspiring champions than a big stage at home. The third edition of the $200,000 India Open badminton championship here this week presents a huge opportunity for several Indian players to cause eye-catching surprises.

In fact, 17 singles matches, out of 32, features Indian players in the first round on Wednesday.

As per rankings, world No. 2 Saina is expected to go all the way. But her inconsistent form has been a worry this season.

Kashyap is a shade unlucky to face Taufik Hidayat, the 2004 Olympic champion in the opener. Though the temperamental Indonesian’s best years are firmly behind him, his class is still good enough to knock out the young Indian. Much depends on how keen the world No. 26 is to extend his stay in the Capital.

With second-seeded Indonesian Sony Dwi Kuncoro and eighth-seeded Japanese Sho Sasaki pulling out, the Indians in the bottom half of the draw have a better chance of advancing.

Ajay Jayaram, the country’s second highest ranked player, faces Sasaki’s replacement Russia’s Vladimir Malkov in the first round. Should the young talent B. Sai Praneeth succeed in upstaging Japan’s Kento Momota, he may well gain from the non-appearance of Kuncuro in the last quarter of the draw.

In the clash of two former National champions, Sourabh Verma faces qualifier Chetan Anand. Another former National champion, qualifier Arvind Bhat plays sixth-seeded Japanese Kenichi Tago and youngster K. Srikanth clashes with fourth-seeded Dane Jan O Jorgensen.

Among the ladies, eighth seed P.V. Sindhu will be required to fight hard against China’s Xue Yao to escape a premature exit. Barring Saina and the winners of two all-India clashes, it will be tough for the other Indians to survive the opening round.

The qualifiers: Men singles (4): Chetan Anand, Subhakar Dey, Arvind Bhat and H.S. Prannoy.

Women singles (4): Rituparna Das, Trupti Murgunde, Ruthvika Shivani and Saili Rane.

Men doubles (4): Kiran Kumar & Anilkumar Raju, Chaitanya Reddy & Santosh Ravuri, Raunaq Muradia & Kamaldeep Singh, and Surender Rathee & Neeraj Vashist.

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