New Zealand Open 2018: Sameer Verma and Sai Praneeth spearhead Indian challenge
In the absence of India’s biggest star shuttlers, the country’s challenge at the $150,000 New Zealand Open in Auckland will be led by the Swiss Open champion Sameer Verma and the 2017 Singapore Open winner B Sai Praneeth. Both of them could not progress deep into the draw at last week’s Badminton Asia Championships and will be eager to get a few wins at this Super 300 tournament.
The Indian participation is the biggest in the men’s singles draw, which sees as many as seven shuttlers from India in the 32-player field.
Sameer is the fifth seed and takes on Sony Dwi Kuncoro in the first round. Verma could run into the top seed Lin Dan in the quarter-finals. If he manages to cross that hurdle, he could come up against the eighth seed Kantaphon Wangcharoen of Thailand or fourth seed Hsu Jen Hao of Chinese Taipei in the last-four stage.
In the final, he is likely to cross swords with either second seed Jonatan Christie or third seed Sai Praneeth or sixth seed Tommy Sugiarto.
Sai begins his campaign against Misha Zilberman and can set up an all-Indian showdown with Sourabh Verma in the last-eight.
Apart from them, Subhankar Dey has a tough opener as he has been drawn to face Sugiarto in the first round. Ajay Jayaram, who is on the comeback trail from a hamstring injury, faces the fourth seeded Jen Hao. Karan Rajan Rajarajan will be up against the eighth seeded Wangcharoen.
Rising star Lakshya Sen kicks off his campaign against World No. 82 June Wei Cheam. A win could bring him face-to-face with the two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan.
A couple of youngsters -- Vaishnavi Reddy Jakka and Sai Uttejitha Rao Chukka -- represent India in the women’s singles draw.
While the top Indian men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have taken the break, the tournament will see India’s next best teams all vying for the title. Indian national champions Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy are the fifth seeds and the pair of Francis Alwin and Nandagopal Kidambi are the eighth seeds.
Arjun MR-Shlok Ramchandran and Rohan Kapoor-Shivam Sharma will also be in action in this category.
The women’s doubles duo of Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram open their challenge against the Kiwi combine of Erena Calder-Hawkins and Jasmin Chung Man NG. If they achieve a win in their opener, they will have their task cut out against the top seeds Della Destiara Haris and Rizki Amelia Pradipta.
Indians win in mixed doubles
In mixed doubles, Indian pairs have already grabbed a couple of wins on the first day of the tournament. Rohan Kapoor and Kuhoo Garg beat experienced Israeli campaigners, Misha Zilberman and Ksenia Polikarpova 11-21, 21-7, 21-10. They could have a face-off with the top seeds Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai in the next round.
Shivam Sharma and Poorvisha S Ram also started off things on a winning note. They notched up a 21-19, 21-11 win over the local pair of Niccolo Tagle and Fransisca Angelica Rahardja.
The Indians might have to take on the eighth seeds Chan Peng Soon and Liu Ying Goh for a place in the quarter-finals.