Just days after the enthralling India Open, another Badminton World Federation (BWF) event takes us to Kuching for its fourth edition of the Malaysia Open. The $600,000 mega event is one of the six Superseries tournaments in the calendar and begins on 5 April. Nearly all top-seeded shuttlers will try and showcase their skills as a win will guarantee a maximum of 11,000 points to their profile in the BWF rankings.
Surprisingly, India has never won a single title at the Malaysia Open since its inception in 1937, however, the Indians would be eager to break the jinx this time around after closing the gap with China in the India Open.
Sindhu may face Tai Tzu Ying; Saina faces tough challenge
Fresh from an emphatic victory at the India Open, sixth seed PV Sindhu will be ready to continue her dazzling start to 2017 as she faces unseeded Chen Yufei of China in the first round. These two will be meeting for the first time. There is a possibility of a potential quarter-final clash with All England winner and World no.1 Tai Tzu Ying if the 21-year-old shuttler manages to come out on top in her first two rounds. Tai defeated Sindhu in the quarter-final of the All England in February which was the Indian's only loss in 2017. But, Sindhu looks in stunning form after winning crunch matches against Sung Ji Hyun and Carolina Marin and with a 12-1 win-loss record this year, she has every chance to add a first Superseries Premier title to her tally. However, fans won't witness another Sindhu-Saina showdown unless both of them reach the final as both are placed in opposite half of the draw.
Meanwhile, Saina Nehwal faces a stiff challenge in the first round itself as she is slated against fourth-seed and India Open semi-finalist Akane Yamaguchi. Saina is still finding her feet but glimpses of her old self were visible at the India Open in New Delhi where she covered the court with ease. The Japanese ace has a Superseries title to her name and won the recently-concluded German Open, making this a tie to watch out for. However, these two have faced just once where Saina got the better of Yamaguchi at the 2014 China Open.
"I am happy to be moving well on the court after the surgery of my right knee in just third tournament. I fought well against Sindhu. Looking forward to play at Malaysia open," said Saina after losing to Sindhu at the India Open.
The 2012 Olympic bronze medallist stands a chance to face China's emerging talent and eighth seed He Binjiao in the quarterfinals. Saina must at least try and enter the semi-finals to claim to have got her momentum back.
Jayaram, Sai Praneeth spearhead men's singles challenge
The court will miss Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy as both recently withdrew from the competition citing personal reasons, however, all the top-seeded shuttlers in the men's singles list will be in action in Malaysia. Crowd-favourite and top seed Lee Chong Wei eyes his 12th title as he faces an easy draw in the first round. "I am still keeping good fitness, good shape and good spirit, and I still have the fire to keep on playing," Lee was quoted saying to Reuters.
"I want to win for the 12th time. But there is some pressure because everyone wants to beat me at my home ground," he added.
Ajay Jayaram will face Qiao Bin in the first round and a victory will see him square off against India Open champion Viktor Axelsen. The Danish ace defeated Jayaram in the quarter-final but should the Indian advance, he has a chance to face Chinese great Lin Dan in the semi-final. Jayaram has not been consistent in his recent games and he must bank on his jump smashes and attack to get past Qiao and Axelsen.
Elsewhere, Sai Praneeth has a mountain to climb as he locks horns with seventh seed Lin Dan in the opening round. Praneeth has a knack of starting off well but eventually, loses his momentum as the tournament progresses. Contrary to that, Lin has been in unbelievable form as he did not drop a single game in six matches before claiming the at the Swiss Open title last month. Lin is arguably the world's best men's shuttler but he is yet to open his account in the Malaysia Open, losing three times in the finals - in 2005 and 2006 against old foe Lee and again in the 2015 finals against Chen Long. Both, Lee and Lin nearing retirement, they would want to see off in style, especially Lin Dan.
In the men's doubles, struggling Indian duo Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy face qualifiers in the opening round. Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy have been slated against top seeds Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi of Japan in the very first round.
Sikki can be seen again in action with her mixed doubles partner Pranaav Jerry Chopra as they square off against Danish pair of Kim Astrup and Line Kjaersfeldt.
There's a good chance that Sindhu extends her dream run and ends Indians' Malaysia Open hoodoo as the badminton world awaits another Lee Chong Wei vs Lin Dan encounter in the men's singles final.
Published Date: Apr 05, 2017 11:44 am | Updated Date: Apr 05, 2017 01:15 pm