With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying period in badminton starting from this week, there is an added importance to the BWF tournaments. And that is evident from the composition of the Indian contingent that has travelled to Auckland to participate at the Super 300 tournament, the New Zealand Open, this week.
Saina Nehwal leads the squad while PV Sindhu is missing. In men's singles, Swiss Open runner-up B Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy, Subhankar Dey, each of whom got a direct entry into the main draw, will hope to get some much-needed wins and points ahead of a hectic part of the season.
For Nehwal, this tournament is also crucial in getting some of her lost confidence back as she prepares to play a key role for India at the upcoming Sudirman Cup to be held in China from 19-26 May.
After a bright start to 2019 that saw her win the title at the Indonesia Masters, the former World No. 1's season has tapered off into a disappointing phase and she has failed to overcome the quarter-final hurdle since.
As she starts her campaign against World No. 212 Wang Zhiyi, Saina will desperately look to get back the rhythm. Seventh seed Aya Ohori could pose a threat in the quarter-finals while the semi-finals could present the obstacle called Beiwen Zhang or Chen Xiaoxin, the third and eighth seeds respectively.
With the top seed being Akane Yamaguchi, who beat Saina on her way to being crowned the Asian champion last week, Nehwal indeed has a lot on her plate.
In men's singles, Sai Praneeth meets Subhankar Dey in an exciting all-Indian showdown and the winner could face Lin Dan in the next round. HS Prannoy gets things going against Singapore's rising star Loh Kean Yew with the second seed Tommy Sugiarto looming in the next round.
Youngsters Lakshya Sen and Anura Prabhudesai will be eager to use this platform to get some vital match practice and try and cause an upset or two.
In doubles, the pairs of Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa-Sikki Reddy will be leading India's challenge.
Here is all you need to know about the New Zealand Open:
Tournament name: Barfoot & Thompson New Zealand Open 2019
Category: Super 300
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Where to watch the matches in India?
The New Zealand Open matches will be telecast live on Star Sports Select 2 and Star Sports Select 2 HD from May 4.
Live Stream Details and Info for the matches:
Live Stream for the matches is available on hotstar.com.Published 30 Apr 2019, 23:54 IST