Saina Nehwal could become World No. 1 by the end of the India Open
New Delhi, March 23 (IANS)
The race for the World No.1 ranking in women's singles hots up with badminton stars set to take to the courts of the Siri Fort Sports Complex where the $275,000 India Open Super Series commences on Tuesday. Top seed and India's best hope Saina Nehwal and reigning World Champion Carolina Marin of Spain are both capable of wresting that coveted spot this week. Should this happen, it would be the first time a non-Chinese will top the women's singles rankings in more than four years, the last being Denmark's Tine Baun in December 2010.
It would also be a historic first for India as no woman from the country has ever achieved this distinction.
Currently ranked No.2 behind China's Li Xuerui, Saina has everything in her favour to take the No.1 spot as Olympic champion Xuerui, who was runner-up last year, is not participating this year.
Indian fans would be hoping Saina, who turned 25 on March 17, can cap the week by winning the trophy which she has failed to clinch on home turf since India Open joined the Super Series circuit in 2011.
The Hyderabadi has been given a relatively easy draw until the final where she could take on second seed Carolina. However, on the other hand, the World No.4 Spaniard has been handed a tough draw with former World Champion Ratchanok Intanon and the ever competitive Minatsu Mitani of Japan in her half.
The only obstacle looming large in Saina's way is if Carolina makes the final while she falls in the quarterfinals or earlier or if the 21-year-old Spaniard wins the tournament and the Hyderabadi fails to make the final. Should both reach the final, Saina's No.1 status is assured.
Defending champion and World No.3 Shixian Wang of China has not returned to defend her title in what is the second Super Series of the calendar.
Meanwhile, in the men's singles, the big news is that two-time Olympic champion and five-time World Champion Lin Dan of China will be making his debut in the tournament. In his quest to gain a qualification spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics, 'Super' Dan will be looking to win the tournament to gain maximum points to up his ranking.
In his way will be Danish top seed Jan O Jorgensen and India's second seed Kidambi Srikanth, both of whom have beaten the legendary Chinese star. World No.4 Srikanth's moment of glory came when he defeated Dan in a classic final at the China Open in November 2014.
In doubles competition, chances of Indians advancing to the business end of the tournament look bleak.
The qualifiers will be held on Tuesday while the main draw starts on Wednesday.