China Open 2017: PV Sindhu seeks consistency as Saina Nehwal and HS Prannoy eye Dubai berths
With Srikanth Kidambi’s pullout, the focus entirely shifts on the trio of Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and HS Prannoy as the main draw action gets under way at the $700, 000 Tahoe China Open in Fuzhou on Wednesday. For the defending champion Sindhu, the final Superseries Premier event of the season will give her an opportunity to find her consistency as she returns to the tournament where she has had grand memories from last year. Familiar surroundings could help the lanky Indian find the spark that went missing in the last one month since her win at the Korea Open.
For Saina Nehwal and HS Prannoy -- both ranked 11th in the Destination Dubai Rankings -- the China Open is a crucial tournament for their respective qualifications at the season-ending World Superseries Finals. Former runner-up Nehwal has been there and knows what it takes to make a last push. If Prannoy manages to get that much-coveted berth, it will break new ground for Indian badminton since India never has had two men’s singles entrants in the same season before.
Prannoy’s path has been made more comfortable by the withdrawal of the very man he beat in the Nationals final -- Srikanth Kidambi. He starts off against the 51st ranked Korean qualifier, Lee Dong Keun and his biggest challenge comes in the quarter-finals in the form of the second seeded Son Wan Ho.
The Korean World No. 3 has been struggling of late and lost in the first round of the French Open. The World No. 11 thus might fancy his chances of avenging the quarter-final defeat Son inflicted on him at the Denmark Open.
Sixth seed and Olympic champion Chen Long lurks in Prannoy’s half of the draw and could be his semi-final opponent. The Indian won their last meeting in Indonesia and might just pull off a repeat, considering the fact that the Chinese hasn’t looked very sharp in recent times.
Top seed and world champion Viktor Axelsen looms large in the summit clash should Prannoy manage to cross all these hurdles and reach his maiden Superseries final.
Sourabh Verma is the only other Indian in the men’s singles draw. Verma is coming back to the Tour after recovering from an ankle injury that he sustained in September. He begins his campaign against the experienced World No. 30 Brice Leverdez.
Early dangers lurk for Saina and Sindhu
In the women’s singles category, PV Sindhu is the second seed but that hasn’t made her draw any easier. Her first round opponent is the World No. 13 Sayaka Sato, who won the Indonesia Open in June. In the quarter-finals, sixth seed and world champion Nozomi Okuhara waits for the Indian.
The two orchestrated two of the finest battles at the World Championships and at the Korea Open but a knee injury struck the Japanese in the middle of the Japan Open that kept her out of action since September. It would be a test of her fitness as much as it would be a chance for Sindhu to get back her lost consistency, should they cross swords.
Her path will continue to be riddled with dangers with the fourth seed and Japan Open champion Carolina Marin being her potential semi-final opponent. World No. 10 He Bingjiao, who is the seventh seed, could be an obstacle for Marin, though.
Meanwhile, the top seed Tai Tzu Ying, the third seeded Sung Ji Hyun, the fifth seeded Akane Yamaguchi, the eighth seeded Ratchanok Intanon as well as former champion Saina Nehwal are in a packed first half and things could get very tricky in that section.
Nehwal starts her quest against World No. 12 Beiwen Zhang, who reached the final of the Bitburger Open just a few days back. Crossing the second round hurdle would be an uphill task for Saina as Yamaguchi accounted for her the last two times they met.
But the former World No. 1 looked very confident with her movement at the National Championships, a fact that she herself acknowledged later on. If she can replicate that same performance, she can avoid a repeat of the result she has had to endure at the Denmark Open and the French Open.
And if she indeed can, the third seeded Sung would be up for her next with either of Tai or Intanon waiting for her in the last-four. They won the last two Superseries titles and thus would be looking to continue in the same vein.
It goes without saying that Saina would have to be at her flawless best if she has any desire of adding to her 2014 title in China.
In men’s doubles, the national champions Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy have a very difficult job in the first round as they take on the top seeds Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljyo. The India No. 1 pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty too won’t be having a hassle-free time either as they face the fifth seeds Liu Cheng and Zhang Nan.
In women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy lock horns with the Korean combine of Ha Na Baek and Chae Yoo Jung. The Indians are in contention for a berth at the Dubai World Superseries Finals and going deep in this tournament should be high on their agenda. Ponnappa and Rankireddy represent the only Indian team in mixed doubles and they meet the French Open semi-finalists Mathias Christiansen and Christinna Pedersen in the first round.