Birmingham: Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal will return to Great Britain with a renewed hope of clinching the prestigious All England title but a tough draw awaits her in the women's singles of the Super Series Premier event, which starts with the qualifiers here Tuesday. Ever since 2007, Saina has been playing in the USD 400,000 All England Championship and her best performance so far is a semifinal finish at the 2010 edition.
In the last two years, Saina reached the quarterfinals of the event before being humbled by lower-ranked players and the second seeded Indian will have to be on her guard this year as well. The Commonwealth Games gold medallist will open her campaign against Sapsiree Taerattanachai of Thailand. The Indian has played her four times and always had an upper hand but in their last encounter at Korea Open, the Thai girl had stretched Saina to three games.
If she clears the first hurdle, the 22-year-old will next take on Minatsu Mitani of Japan, who had spoilt her French Open title hopes when she beat the Indian at the finals. Even though Saina has beaten her thrice in the past, she needs to be careful of the Japanese. If she can cross the second hurdle as well, then it will be either sixth seed Shixian Wang or Yanjiao Jiang in the quarterfinals. For the records, Saina holds a 3-1 advantage against Shixian but all the wins has been three-game affairs.
However, Saina is likely to prefer Shixian over Jiang as the Indian has never beaten the the world number 12 in their five encounters. "The draw is tough, it always happens that way. But I will try my best to come up well," Saina told. Saina's younger colleague and rising shuttler P V Sindhu too will start in the main draw for the first time and will meet Ongbamrungphan Busanan of Thailand in the opening round, whom she had beaten at the Badminton Asia Youth Under 19 Championships last year.
If she can cross the first hurdle, Sindhu will take on fourth seed Juliane Schenk. The Hyderabadi had lost to the German at the Indonesia Open last year. In the men's singles, world number 11 Parupalli Kashyap will open his campaign against Jen Hao Hsu of Chinese Taipei and will likely take on Japan's Kenichi Tago, seeded seventh, in the second round if he manages to cross the opening hurdle. If Kashyap crosses the second round as well then he is likely to lock horns against second seed Chen Long of China.
Chen has beaten Kashyap three times in the past but in their earlier clash, the Indian had defeated him in straight-games at the Indonesian Open last year. "It is a challenging draw. I feel if I can get past the initial rounds, I can go much further in the tournament. The Chinese Taipei guy is also good and Tago is unpredictable, you never know when he will play well," Kashyap said. Ajay Jayaram is the other Indian who will start in the men's singles main draw, taking on Zhengming Wang of China in the first round. Jayaram has beaten the Chinese at the Hong Kong Open last year and will look to repeat the performance.
If he wins, Jayaram is expected to face top seed and world number one Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. Another celebrated shuttler, Jwala Gutta too will return to action after a seven month sabbatical in this tournament and the Hyderabadi will pair up with her partner V Diju to take on German duo of Peter Kaesbauer and Isabel Herttrich in the opening round of the mixed doubles event. Jwala and Prajakta Sawant will also combine for the first time in the women's doubles and take on Thai duo of Serithammarak Artima and Peeraya Munkitamorn in the qualifiers.
"The mixed doubles draw is good. We should win the first two rounds. We have never lost against the Polish pair in the second round. So I am positive," Jwala said. "I am playing in the qualifiers after a long long time but its okay, I know me and Prajakta will do well. I will look to just play for myself," she said. One half of the Commonwealth Games gold medallist women's doubles pair, Ashwini Ponnappa will also pair up with Tarun Kona and take on Indonesian pair of Fran Kurniawan and Shendy Puspa Irawati in the first round of the mixed doubles. Ashwini will also pair up with Pradnya Gadre to take on Sarah Thomas and Carissa Turner of Wales in the qualifiers of the women's doubles.