B. Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma will look to build on their good form as they set their sights on winning the Australian Open 2018 to be held at the Quay Centre Olympic Park in Sydney from May 9. Sai was the best-performing Indian shuttler at last week’s New Zealand Open, where he reached the semi-finals.
The World No. 18 will hope to do even better at the Super 300 tournament in Australia this week. Seeded second, he starts off his campaign against the World No. 54 Misha Zilberman. In the quarter-finals, he could come face-to-face with the seventh seeded Lee Cheuk Yiu.
However, the Hong Kong shuttler needs to be wary of the fast-rising Lakshya Sen, who took a game off Lin Dan last week and highly impressed everyone. If Sen can overcome his seeded opponent in his very first round, he has a chance to meet his older compatriot, Sai in the last-eight stage.
In the semi-finals, fifth seeded Tommy Sugiarto looks the most likely candidate to take on the winner of the Sai-Lakshya quarter-final, should it happen.
Former India No. 1 Ajay Jayaram, who is coming back from a hamstring injury, too is in the same half of the draw and meets Japanese qualifier Riichi Takeshita in the first round. A win would set him up against the New Zealand Open quarter-finalist Niluka Karunaratne.
In the other half of the draw, three Indians are huddled together. Swiss Open champion Sameer Verma is the fourth seed and takes on New Zealand’s Abhinav Manota in his opener. There could be a blockbuster showdown between the Verma brothers in the second round, if Sourabh can beat Japan’s World No. 113 Takuma Ueda.
With the withdrawal of the top seed HS Prannoy, the path looks pretty open for Sameer to clinch the title. Eighth seeded Daren Liew looks the biggest danger for him second round onwards and Verma is expected to overcome that challenge, given how confidently he has been playing this season.
World No. 93 Karan Rajan Rajarajan is the only other Indian in the men’s singles draw and he faces former World No. 4 Sony Dwi Kuncoro in the first round.
Youngsters in women’s singles draw
India’s women’s singles challenge comprises only three youngsters -- Vaishnavi Reddy Jakka, Sai Uttejitha Rao Chukka and Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli.
Jakka is the highest ranked among the three at 64th. Former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Michelle Li looms for her in the second round. Chukka has a relatively easy opener as she has drawn Japanese qualifier, Ayumi Mine.
The 66th ranked Kudaravalli takes on the 88th ranked Yulia Yosephin Susanto in Round 1.
Both Jakka and Kudaravalli have been selected for the prestigious Uber Cup. This tournament will give them the much-needed opportunity to gain some experience by playing top shuttlers.
India has four teams in men’s doubles -- third seeds Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy, seventh seeds MR Arjun-Shlok Ramchandran, eighth seeds Francis Alwin-Nandagopal Kidambi and the unseeded Rohan Kapoor-Shivam Sharma.
The national champions made it to the quarter-finals in Auckland and would look to continue with that form.
The solitary Indian pair in women’s doubles is that of Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram. In mixed doubles, Kapoor and Kuhoo Garg have bowed out in the first round while the duo of Sharma and Poorvisha reached Round 2.