As of now, year 2019 is proving to be a highly disappointing one for Indian badminton. While the ace player PV Sindhu has completely lost her form, even Saina Nehwal is struggling to follow her victory in the Indonesia Masters earlier this year with great performances. The Olympic bronze medallist from London 2012 will get another opportunity to claim a title when she starts her campaign in the New Zealand Open as the second seed.
But there is another reason why this tournament holds great importance. It is the beginning of the Olympic qualification cycle. This means that the performances of players from here onwards will determine whether they qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games or not. Needless to say, there is no room for complacency and no leeway for a slip-up. If Nehwal wants to reach the Olympic podium again, she has to start her campaign from New Zealand.
This Super 300 event which begins on April 30 doesn't have a very strong field but the recently-crowned Asian champion Akane Yamaguchi is scheduled to take part as the top-seeded player. Apart from the Japanese though, the field seems easy for Nehwal. A win here would act as a massive booster shot not just for the Haryanvi shuttler but also the whole Indian badminton fraternity. By winning a title, she can alleviate some of the disappointment arising out of the empty-handed return of Indian players from All England Championships and the Asian Championships.
Whereas Sindhu's performances have dipped alarmingly and she is losing matches without even putting up a fight, Saina has managed to retain her doggedness. Even in her defeats, Nehwal showed tenacity. She was also unlucky at times to be drawn against top players like Tai Tzu Ying in early stages.
The road to final looks easy for the former world number 1 in New Zealand. The only player who could pose a tough challenge is Beiwen Zhang of USA. Except for her, there is no major player on her side of the draw. Needless to say, anything less than reaching the final, likely to be against Yamaguchi, would be considered a massive disappointment and another setback to Indian badminton.
Men's singles draw
As far as men's singles draw is concerned, India's biggest hope lies with HS Prannoy and B Sai Praneeth. The latter had a great run in the Swiss Open where he was able to defeat the reigning Olympic champion Chen Long and reach the finals. This tournament provides an opportunity to both players to make a big splash.
The biggest challengers for them would be the Indonesian boys – Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and Jonatan Christie. Ginting, the top seed, is one of the most talented young players around and has recorded some major victories over the last year. Christie, the Asian Games gold-medalist, has also shown some good form this season without going all the way. These two are probably going to be the biggest threats for the Indians though the second seed is, interestingly, another Indonesian, Tommy Sugiarto.
One very prominent name in the fray is Lin Dan. But the five-time World Champion and two-time Olympic champion is a shadow of his former self. Still, as he showed at the Malaysia Open, there is still life left in him and he is still capable of winning titles. He may well prove to be the dark horse in this tournament.