Saina Nehwal will look to clinch the Malaysia Masters title as she begins the year’s international campaign in the season-opening Grand Prix Gold badminton tournament which starts with the qualifiers here tomorrow.
Saina had a good match practice when she competed at the just-concluded Premier Badminton League where she won three matches while losing to Olympic champion Carolina Marin and silver medallist P V Sindhu.
Still in the process of reaching her best form, top seed Saina will look to grab the opportunity, especially since none of the top shuttlers are participating at the USD 120,000 tournament.
Saina had endured a difficult season last year as she recovered from a foot injury to win the Australian Open but suffered a major knee injury around the Rio Olympics to bow out of the the mega-event in the second round.
After regaining her fitness, she made it to the quarterfinals at Macau Open and Hong Kong Open before starting the new season with the Premier Badminton League, where she guided Awadhe Warriors to the semifinals.
In men’s singles, P Kashyap will be missing in action as he has been ruled out for three months after hurting his shoulder during the PBL but sixth seed Ajay Jayaram, who has been in good form in the domestic league, will take on a qualifier on the opening day of the main draw.
Among others, Harsheel Dani will face Malaysia’s Zii Jia Lee, Abhishek Yelegar will meet 13th seed Zulfadli Zulkiffli and Rahul Yadav Chittaboina will take on Chinese Taipei’s Hsueh Hsuan Yi at Sibu Indoor Stadium.
Pratul Joshi will square off against Singapore’s Zin Rei Ryan Ng, Siril Verma will meet Thailand’s Pannawit Thongnuam and Aditya Joshi will face Indonesia’s Wisnu Yuli Prasetyo in their opening round matches. Hemanth Gowda will take on ninth seed Iskandar Zulkarnain and 15th seed B Sai Praneeth faces local shuttler June Wei Cheam.
In the women’s singles, Rituparna Das will face Chinese Taipei’s Chiang Mei Hui and Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli will fight it out against sixth seed Jin Wei Goh of Malaysia.
Rio Olympians Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy, seeded third, will face a qualifier, while Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who created a flutter with his performance at the PBL, will pair up with Chirag Shetty to take on local combo of Chee Tean Tan and Wee Gieen Tan.
In the men’s doubles, Jishnu Sanyal and Shivam Sharma, Arjun M R and Ramchandran Shlok and Francis Alwin and Kona Tarun are also in the fray.
Newly-formed women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy will face Malaysian combo of Yea Ching Goh and Khe Wei Woon. Among others, Sruthi K P and Haritha Manazhiyil Harinarayanan, Mahima Aggarwal and Maneesha K and Aparna Balan and Prajakta Sawant will also compete in the tournament.
In the mixed doubles, seventh seeds Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Sikki will face Malaysian pair of Hang Yee Low and Yee See Cheah. Jwala Gutta will pair up with Manu Attri when they face Indonesia’s Lukhi Apri Nugroho and Ririn Amelia, while Ashwini will combine with Sumeeth to take on sixth seed Indonesian pair of Tontowi Ahmad and Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja.