Saina Nehwal has been decent in the Australian Open so far, defeating relatively lower-ranked players with ease, but she needs to come up with a better performance in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Indian star will meet Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon, who has, similarly, not been troubled in the competition.
Saina is using such tournaments as the perfect way to buildup to the Rio Olympics, which is scheduled to start on August 5. This quarterfinal clash against Intanon will test the former world number one, whose ranking has slipped to number eight in the world due to injuries since late last year.
However, Saina has looked better of late, and played some good badminton before she lost to Carolina Marin in the Indonesia Open. The Indian player seems to be on top of her fitness, but it is time to regain her top form, which helped her win a number of titles in her illustrious career.
On the contrary, Thailand's Intanon has had a superb year so far, defeating top shuttlers around the world to win important trophies, including the Thailand Masters, India Open, Malaysia Open and Singapore Open. With such wins under her belt, Intanon is one of the huge favourites for the Australian Open, where she has been seeded second, while Saina is seventh.
Intanon's latest head-to-head record over Saina looks impressive, as she defeated the former world number one in the Uber Cup 2016 and French Open 2015, in straight games. However, Saina can take inspiration from her overall record against Intanon, who has won five compared to Hyderabadi's six victories. Saina's last triumph over Intanon came at India Open in 2015.
With 11 matches played between the two so far, they must be aware of their strengths and weakness. Intanon is a smart player, who loves to play the cross-court shot, and her smashes are mighty powerful, surprising opponents. Saina, who is a strong defensive player, needs to get involved in long rallies, which could help her earn points.
Of late, the Thai player's game has improved by leaps and bounds, so if Saina is to reach the quarterfinals, she needs to come up with her A-game in Australia.
Where to watch live
Saina Nehwal vs Ratchanok Intanon is scheduled for 4:50 p.m local time (12:20 p.m) but the timings of the match may change depending on earlier fixtures.
Indian viewers can watch Australian 2016 live in Star Sports 4/HD with live streaming on starsports.com.