PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal eyeing strong starts at Malaysia Masters

Top Indian shuttlers have been handed kinder draws to begin with in the upcoming Malaysia Masters

By Subhayan Dutta ·

It is going to be a massive Olympic year ahead for India's badminton talent.

PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and co face a race to finish in the top half of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings list, which will be published on April 30, 2020 and based on which the Olympic selections will be done.

With as many as 15 participants across five categories – five in men’s singles, two in women’s singles, and six in men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles – the Badminton Federation of India (BFI) is testing all the weapons up their sleeves in the Malaysia Masters Super 500 tournament, scheduled to start from January 7.

Straightforward starts for Sindhu, Saina?

India’s biggest badminton hope in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, PV Sindhu will be kickstarting her 2020 with a clash against Russia’s Evgeniya Kosetskaya.

The Indian world number six has faced the Russian, who is currently ranked 27 in the world, just once in her entire career, back in the 2018 China Open. Sindhu had won the match in straight games 21-13, 21-19.

Going ahead, Sindhu could be facing either Japan’s Aya Ohori or Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan in the second round before a possible quarter-final clash against world number one Tai Tzu Ying.

PV Sindhu is placed seventh in the ‘Race to Tokyo’ Olympics rankings.

Saina Nehwal, on the other hand will face as an as yet unknown qualifier in round one.

She could be facing South Korean world number eight An Se-Young in the second round, with either Akane Yamaguchi or Carolina Marin as potential contenders in the quarter-finals.

Kashyap, Srikanth to climb uphill

India will have five shuttlers in the men’s singles category with B Sai Praneeth, Parupalli Kashyap, Sameer Verma, HS Prannoy, and Kidambi Srikanth all fighting for glory.

Kashyap will be taking on world number one Kento Momota in the first round and with the Japanese in imperious form now, the Indian world number 23 is expected to have to empty his reserves to get a positive result. Kashyap has faced Momota thrice in his career, losing all three times.

Kidambi Srikanth is closest to B Sai Praneeth in Olympic qualification rankings 

Srikanth will be up against Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen, who is second in the world now. They have faced each other five times, and barring the 2014 Hong Kong Open win, Srikanth has faltered on the remaining four occasions.

2019 BWF World Championships bronze medalist Sai Praneeth is pitted against Denmark’s Rasmus Gemke, while world number 33 Sameer Verma is facing Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen in the first round. HS Prannoy, after his struggling 2019 season, will be coming face-to-face with Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama to start his 2020.

Now or never for Satwik-Chirag

After nearly two years of promise, the men’s doubles of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had a watershed moment last year when they lifted the Thailand Open title in 2019. The unseeded duo had overcome world champions Li Junhui and Liu Yu Chen in the final to win the BWF Super 500 Tournament and are only expected to get better in 2020.

Rankireddy and Shetty will be up against Malaysia’s Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, who have been huge names on the Malaysian badminton circuit. However, with the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) axing the duo from the national set-up after January, owing to ‘Project 24’, the Indians could capitalise on Malaysia’s transition period.

The women’s doubles duo of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy will be up against South Korea’s Chang Ye Na and Kim Hye Rin, while Ponnappa will be partnering Rankireddy to face higher-ranked Chinese mixed doubles duo of Wang Yi Lyu and Huang Dong Ping.

Gopichand hoping for better display in Tokyo

With BFI to choose their Olympic participants from amongst the top 16 of the BFI rankings which are to be released by April’s end, Pullela Gopichand will be keenly observing the next four months to adjudge where his athletes would need to excel in competitions like Indonesia Masters, Thailand Masters, All England Open, India Open, Malaysia Open, and Singapore Open.

The national badminton coach has played a massive role over the last two Olympics for India, producing two medallists in consecutive editions - Saina Nehwal (bronze medal in 2012) and PV Sindhu (silver medal in 2016) – and has been of the opinion that India could better their previous performances in the upcoming Games.

"We have had some good performances in the last couple of Olympics. This time, we will go into the Olympics with a world champion in our team (Sindhu), and hopefully, with some good preparations, we can come back with better performances than what we have had in the previous Games," said Gopichand, reported PTI.