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Malaysia Masters: Saina Nehwal to lead the Indian challenge

FEATURED COLUMNIST
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796   //    17 Jan 2017, 12:56 IST
Saina Nehwal
Nehwal is the top seed at this Grand Prix Gold tournament to be held in Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia

Indian badminton queen Saina Nehwal will lead the Indian badminton challenge at the season-opening Malaysia Masters which begins with the qualifying rounds on Tuesday. Nehwal is the top seed at this Grand Prix Gold tournament to be held in Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia while the defending women’s singles champion PV Sindhu chose to skip it this year.

Nehwal, who admittedly needs another couple of months to reach peak fitness following her knee surgery, showed flashes of her brilliance during the recently-concluded second season of the Premier Badminton League (PBL-2). She lost to the Olympic medallists Carolina Marin and PV Sindhu but did beat the third-ranked Sung Ji Hyun. 

With most of the top shuttlers yet to kickstart the new season, a few wins at this tournament will surely provide the former World No.1 the boost of confidence that she needs. Saina has a comfortable draw and begins her campaign against a qualifier. In the summit clash, she is scheduled to meet the second-seeded Cheung Ngan Yi, a player she beat in three games during the PBL-2.

Ajay Jayaram is the only top Indian in men’s singles

In men’s singles, Ajay Jayaram is the only top Indian shuttler left in the draw after the Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap withdrew due to shoulder dislocation. Kashyap has been ruled out for at least three months due to the injury he suffered in the PBL final.

The 19th ranked Jayaram is seeded sixth and will open his challenge against a qualifier. The Mumbai Rockets player is on a collision course with the top seed NG Ka Long Angus in the semi-finals.

There are a host of talented young Indian players in the men’s singles draw. Former junior World No. 1 Siril Verma will meet the World No. 92 Pannawit Thongnuam while 20-year-old Aditya Joshi will square off against Wisnu Yuli Prasetyo.

Aditya’s elder brother, Pratul, meanwhile, faces Zin Rei Ryan NG. But Bangladesh International Challenge winner Abhishek Yelegar has a tough task as he takes on the 13th seed Zulfadli Zulkiffli.

Strong Indian representation in doubles

In men’s doubles, Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy are seeded third and have an easy opener against a qualifying team. The rising pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty too has participated and has the Malaysian combine of Chee Tean Tan and Wee Gieen Tan first up.

The two teenaged Indians won four titles together last year and also played at the PBL-2. The 16-year-old Rankireddy, especially, stole the show at the pan-India league when he appeared for the Hyderabad Hunters.

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The other Indian pairs in the draw are Francis Alwin-Tarun Kona and Arjun MR-Shlok Ramachandran.

India has strong representation in mixed doubles too. Jwala Gutta starts off her new partnership with Manu Attri at this tournament. India’s other elite doubles player, Ashwini Ponnappa, too is there alongside Sumeeth Reddy.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and K Maneesha, who won three titles together in 2016, are India’s third team in this category while Prajakta Sawant is playing with Malaysia’s Yogendran Krishnan. 

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