New Delhi: Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal of India will begin the hunt for her first title of the season and also eye a return to the top-5 when the China Open Super Series Premier starts with the qualifiers in Shanghai from Tuesday.
The 23-year-old Indian could not defend her title at the Denmark Open and also suffered an early exit from French Open. The dip in performance reflected in her ranking as she slipped to number seven late last month.
Troubled by injuries and inconsistent form, Saina will now open her campaign against a qualifier in the China Open, a tournament which she missed out last year.
The Hyderabadi had to withdraw from last years' China Open due to a knee injury and will be hoping to make a mark this year. The USD 350,000 China Open is a Super Series Premier category tournament and is the fifth and last Super Series Premier Tournament of the year.
However, Saina will have her task cut out as she will probably face defending champion and top seed Li Xuerei of China if she manages to reach the quarterfinals.
Li, who will face unseeded Japanese Kaori Imabeppu in the tournament opener, is the top ranked women's player in the world at present. The reigning Olympic champion is in good touch this year, winning silver at the World Championships in August.
Li is widely expected to defend her China Open title and Saina will have to be in top form in order to stage an upset.
If the Indian does manage to get past that hurdle, she will probably have to play either fourth seed Ji Hyun Sung of South Korea or fifth seed Juliane Schenk of Germany in the semifinals.
Unseeded Arundhati Pantawane, the other Indian in the women's singles, will face another unseeded opponent in Eriko Hirose of Japan. The Nagpur shuttler is in fine form and has reached a career best ranking of 47 after good performances at the Denmark Open and French Open.
In men's singles, unseeded Parupalli Kashyap will face eighth seed Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand in his campaign opener. Although Ponsana is a formidable opponent, Kashyap will take heart from the fact that he has performed well against the Thai in the past.
Kashyap, who is ranked 12th in the world, had reached the quarterfinals of the China Open last year and will be aiming for another good performance this year. If Kashyap manages to reach the quarterfinals, then he could face top seed and World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia.
Unseeded Ajay Jayaram, the other Indian in the fray, will be up against one of the qualifiers in his first match. The world number 26, who crashed out of the opening round last year, will most probably face world number two Chen Long of China in the second round.
In men's singles qualification World No. 33 Anand Pawar will lock horns with World No. 48 Yan Kit Chan of Hong Kong in the first qualification round. Pawar, who is also the 2nd seed in the qualification needs to win two matches to make it through to the main draw of the tournament.
In men's doubles, World No. 51 Indian pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy will take on the World No. 14 Russian pair of Ivan Sozonov and Vladimir Ivanov in the first round of the tournament.