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Saina banking on home advantage

New Delhi: Can Saina Nehwal break the jinx? That is what badminton fans would be asking as the $250 India Open Super Series kicks off on Tuesday.

After a day of qualifiers at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, the main rounds, featuring some of world’s top players, would start on Wednesday.

However, world champion Ratchanok Intanon, who is also the defending champion here, has pulled out because of an injury. In action will be players like Olympic champion Li Xuerui and world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia.

Despite the presence of top players, including a host of Chinese stars, the focus would remain on the two Indians — Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu.

After her bronze medal winning performance at the London Olympics in 2012, Saina has not won a major tournament. To add to her woes, she performed way below expectations in the last two editions of the India Open.

Given the strong nature of the field, all Indians have got a tough draw. Saina will meet Austrian Simone Prutsch in the first round, but might find herself up against former world champion Yihan Wang of China in the quarter finals. Wang has an impressive 7-1 record against Saina.

Saina is aware of the fact this could be her best chance to end her title drought. “The draw is tough… but this is a good opportunity to win in front of my home crowd,” she said on Tuesday. “This tournament is very important for me. This year, we have quite a few top tournaments lined up like the Uber Cup, and then the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. We must do well in the India Open,” Saina said.

India’s chief coach Pullela Gopichand admitted the India Open will be the testing ground for local players.

“All top players are playing… it is definitely the toughest India Open ever. But if we have to face tough competitions, then its better we face them at home,” he said.

Sindhu, a bronze medallist in the World championships, has been pitted against second seed and world No. 3 Shixian Wang of China in the opener. Other Indians in the draw are Tanvi Lad, Trupti Murgunde, P.C. Thulasi, Saili Rane and Arundhati Pantawane.