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Syed Modi International 2018: Saina Nehwal looks to win her first BWF title of the season

FEATURED COLUMNIST
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755   //    20 Nov 2018, 20:07 IST

Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal

Indian shuttle queen Saina Nehwal will be aiming for her first BWF title of 2018 in her final tournament of the season when the main draw action begins at the $150,000 Syed Modi International Badminton Championships 2018 at Lucknow, India on Wednesday. In the absence of defending women’s singles champion PV Sindhu and 2016 men’s singles winner Kidambi Srikanth, Nehwal will be the cynosure of all eyes at this Super 300 event.

This will be the last event for the 28-year-old before she ties the knot with Parupalli Kashyap in December. The former World No. 1 would definitely like to end the season on a high with a trophy in her hands.

She did win the Commonwealth Games gold medal in April by beating Sindhu in the final, but on the BWF circuit, her best result has been reaching the finals of the Indonesia Masters and the Denmark Open.

Her resurgence in Odense, especially, received a lot of plaudits for the way she fearlessly handled tough opponents. There she accounted for World No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi, World No. 7 Nozomi Okuhara and even took a game off the irrepressible World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying in the final. It demonstrated how confident Saina is feeling at the moment and it would thus not be considered fanciful if one expects to see her winning the Syed Modi International for the third time in her career.

The World No. 9 starts her quest against the 70th ranked Kate Foo Kune of Mauritius. The first seeded player she can face is the eighth-seeded Rituparna Das in the quarter-finals. Fifth seed Zhang Yiman of China could be waiting for her in the semi-finals.

In the summit clash, she could square off against the fourth seed Han Yue or the sixth-seeded Dinar Dyah Ayustine or the seventh seed and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui. It’s the last name that could bring some headache for Nehwal.

Saina has a lopsided 2-12 head-to-head record against the former World No. 1 Chinese. Having said that, Xuerui is still making her comeback from the knee injury that she suffered at the Rio Olympics. She hasn’t played a full schedule this year, but still managed to win three out of the six events she participated in.

It would be interesting to see how higher-ranked Saina fares against the currently 44th ranked Xuerui.

All eyes on Prannoy and Sameer in men’s singles

In men’s singles, all the attention will be on the second seed HS Prannoy. After the sizzling show he put up against Kidambi Srikanth in Hong Kong, where he had four match points, there will be a lot of expectations from the Kerala shuttler.

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The World No. 23 begins his challenge against Indonesia’s Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo of Indonesia. It’s the semi-finals where he could face a stern test as the third seed and defending champion Sameer Verma is likely to meet him.

If he can overcome Verma, Prannoy might have to lock horns with fourth seed Sai Praneeth or sixth seed Lu Guangzu or eighth seed Sitthikom Thammasin of Thailand in the final.

Among the other top Indian names, Sameer Verma starts his title defence against a qualifier. He will hope to lay his hands on the trophy again as it can help him book a berth at the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals next month.

While fourth Sai Praneeth begins his campaign against Russia’s Sergey Sirant, seventh seed Sourabh Verma has China’s Zhou Zeqi in the first round. Ajay Jayaram too has a qualifier and SaarLorlux Open champion Subhankar Dey takes on Felix Burestedt.

In men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are seeded eighth. The young pair made it to the semi-finals at the French Open and the quarter-finals at the China Open. They will hope to build on their good run and upset the top seeds Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, whom they can meet in the quarter-finals.

In women’s doubles, India’s title hopes will rest on last year’s runners-up Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, who are seeded fourth this time. The Commonwealth Games bronze medallists would need to tackle the Rio Olympic champions Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi in the semi-finals.

In mixed doubles, defending champions Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Sikki Reddy are the top seeds. While they have the Chinese duo of Ren Xiangyu and Zhou Chaomin, sixth seeds Ponnappa and Rankireddy have Indian qualifiers Krishna Prasad Garga and Rutaparna Panda in their first round.




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FEATURED COLUMNIST
A freelance journalist based in Kolkata who is a diehard Rafael Nadal fan. She is also extremely passionate about India’s progress in sports and hopes to throw light on India’s unsung sports heroes through her articles. When not screaming her lungs out in support of her favourite sports stars, she can be seen reading, watching movies or immersed in planning her next travel destination!
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