Saina begins title defence at Australia Open

Saina begins title defence at Australia Open

She might be in red-hot form but defending champion Saina Nehwal will look to keep her guard up when she begins her campaign at the USD 750,000 Australian Open badminton tournament, which gets underway with the qualifiers, here tomorrow.

A year back, Olympic bronze medallist Saina had beaten Spaniard Carolina Marin to clinch her first Super Series crown in 20 months, after coming out on top in the Denmark Open in October 2012.

However, this year, Saina is coming into the tournament with some steller performances which saw her clinch the India Super Series and Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold title, a runners-up finish at the All England Championships and eventually becoming the first India to grab the World No. 1 crown.

Brimming with confidence, Saina will take on a qualifier in the opening round and is likely to clash with China's Sun Yu, world no. 9, in the second round, against whom the Indian has a 3-1 record.

A clash with two-time All England Champion Shixian Wang is also likely on cards if Saina can cross the second round of the women's singles competition. Two-time World Championship bronze medallist, P V Sindhu, however, will have to play out of her skin right from the start as she takes on former world no. 1 and current eighth seed Wang Yihan of China.

Sindhu, who missed a few tournaments because of an injury this year, have lost thrice to Yihan with her only win coming in the 2013 World Championship. In the men's singles, World No. 4 Kidambi Srikanth will open his campaign against Denmark's Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, the man who brought his downfall at the 2014 French Open and the Indian will be eager to avenge the loss.

Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap too faces an uphill task as he will square up against Chinese sixth seed Wang Zhengming, who has beaten the Indian four times during their five meetings in the past.

In women's doubles, Commonwealth Games silver medallist, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, will meet The Netherlands' Samantha Barning and Iris Tabeling in the first round, while Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar will take on Chinese pair of Cai Yun and Kang Jun in men's doubles.

In the qualifiers tomorrow, Pranaav and Ashwini will pair up to take on Australian combo of Cham Chen and Susan Wang in mixed doubles, while Commonwealth games bronze medallist R M V Gurusaidutt will lock horns with Malaysia's Ai Wei Jian.

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