While Saina Nehwal and the men’s singles shuttlers look to boost their Olympic qualification hopes, PV Sindhu will hope to start the new year on a positive note when she begins her campaign at the Malaysia Masters Super 500 tournament, starting in Kuala Lumpur from Tuesday.

World No 6 Sindhu had a dream run at the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, winning the title last year, but she made early exits in the rest of the season, including her failure to defend the World Tour Finals crown in December.

Opponents at Olympics will feel pressure knowing I can raise my game when stakes are high: PV Sindhu

With the Olympics less than seven months away and her qualification campaign on track, Sindhu will look to iron out the flaws and hit the right note when she begins her women’s singles campaign at the $400,000 event.

Sixth seed Sindhu will have a relatively easy opponent in Russia’s Evgeniya Kosetskaya in the first round and the Indian will look to stay on course for an expected clash with world No 1, Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-finals.

Attention will also be on Saina Nehwal, who claimed the Indonesia Masters last year before slumping to a series of early exits in the rest of the year, and she will open against a qualifier at the Axiata Arena. While Sindhu sits comfortably in the top eight of Olympic qualification rankings, Nehwal is down at 25th and will need to improve her results early to make sure she makes the cut for Tokyo.

Men’s race for Tokyo 2020

Men’s singles is where the race to Tokyo 2020 promises to be a close-run affair for India.

Shubhankar Dey and Lakshya Sen start their campaign on Tuesday in the qualification rounds. Sen had a sensational 2019 season to impress on the senior circuit and is now knocking on the doors of top 30 in the world. He will take on Hans Kristian Vittinghus while Dey takes on Daren Liew.

Kidambi Srikanth, who pulled out of the Premier Badminton League to be in best shape in the Olympic year, will start the new year with a clash against second seed Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei.

B Sai Praneeth, who ended as the best-placed Indian men’s singles player in the BWF ranking, will open against Denmark’s Rasmus Gemke, while Sameer Verma, having endured a difficult 2019, will square off against Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen in the first round.

Former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Parupalli Kashyap, who showed some sparks of his earlier self last year, will face top seed and world No 1 Kento Momota of Japan in the first round, while HS Prannoy, who was down with health issues for most part of last season, will meet Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama.

Right now, Sai Praneeth is leading the way for Olympic qualification among the men’s singles shuttlers followed by Sourabh Verma, who is also in the top 16 and currently occupying the second spot for Tokyo 2020. Srikanth, after a miserable 2019, is just within the top 50 as things stand and will be eyeing plenty of points in the early stages of the season.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who became the first Indian men’s pair to claim a super 500 title with their win at Thailand Open and also reached the finals of the French Open Super 750 event, will open against local shuttlers Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi. The Indian pair are currently on course to qualify for the Olympics.

World No 1 Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong will stand in the way of Sikki and Pranaav Jerry Chopra in the opening round of mixed doubles.

With PTI Inputs