Indonesia Masters 2019: PV Sindhu faces Li Xuerui in her first match of the new season
After winning the biggest title of her career at the BWF World Tour Finals in China in December, Indian shuttle queen PV Sindhu faces a tough test in her first match of the new season.
The first opponent for the current World No. 3 at the Indonesia Masters 2019 happens to be none other than the 2012 Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui.
The Chinese great leads their head-to-head showdown 3-2 and won their last encounter at the 2015 Denmark Open in straight games. The two have had some hard-fought battles which is validated by the fact that three out of their five meetings went the distance.
However, a lot has happened since then. Xuerui suffered a career-threatening knee injury at the Rio Olympics which derailed her glittering career for a long time. In the meantime, the lanky Indian blossomed into the complete player she was always expected to be.
Li made a comeback last year and even though she was careful not to overburden herself with too many events, she made a mark in the few tournaments she participated in. Out of the eight events that she played, she was able to win four. With victories over Beiwen Zhang, Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Goh Jin Wei, the former World No. 1 established that she was very much back.
While lack of consistency could be a factor, she will make sure that she really challenges Sindhu in the latter's first international match in over a month. In between, the 23-year-old Indian did hone her skills in the fourth season of the Premier Badminton League. With losses to the likes of Sung Ji Hyun and Beiwen Zhang, it wasn't exactly a campaign that Sindhu would like to remember.
But, at the same time, the PBL 4 did give the India No. 1 enough opportunity to gear up for the new season and that matchplay could come in handy against Li Xuerui.
Should Sindhu, seeded second at this Super 500 tournament, manage to cross the first hurdle, she could come up against former junior world champion Tunjung before a quarter-final clash with the Olympic champion Carolina Marin awaits.
Marin lost the final at the Malaysia Masters last week. Suffice to say, she would be doubly motivated to finish the first month of the year with a title. However, having beaten the Spaniard at the PBL 4, Sindhu might just draw inspiration from that performance and stop the run of the three-time world champion.
The semi-finals will be highly interesting with third seed Chen Yufei and seventh seed Ratchanok Intanon being in Sindhu's half of the draw. Intanon was sensational in Kuala Lumpur last week and accounted for both Marin and the World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying on her way to the title.
Sindhu and Intanon are tied at 4-4 in their head-to-head record with the Indian having triumphed in their last three matches. But how this in-form and aggressive Intanon fares against Sindhu remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the top half of the draw has some of the biggest names of the badminton world -- top seed Nozomi Okuhara, fourth seed Akane Yamaguchi, sixth seed He Bingjiao, and eighth seed Saina Nehwal.
Nehwal was the runner-up last year at the Indonesia Masters and would be keen to build on her semi-final run at Kuala Lumpur last week with another sizzling performance in Indonesia. If Saina can manage to show the confidence she displayed at the 2019 Malaysia Masters, there is every possibility of a blockbuster all-Indian final next Sunday.