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W2W4: Can Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth break India's long drought in Malaysia?

Saina Nehwal in action during the quarterfinals of the 2019 Indonesia Masters. BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

Already a quarter of the way into the 2019 badminton season, Saina Nehwal's Indonesia Masters win after Carolina Marin's injury-enforced retirement remains the only title for an Indian on the World Tour this year.

The Malaysia Open, the first of five Super 750 events this year, is a tournament that Indians have historically struggled in. Although played since 1937, no Indian has managed to win the title in singles or doubles.

With the tournament beginning on Tuesday, here are the key storylines to look forward to:

How well has Saina recovered from her injury?

After winning the Indonesia Masters and the national championships and making the quarterfinals at the All England Open, it looked like Saina was close to her best. However, a bout of acute gastroenteritis meant she had to miss the India Open, where she is a two-time champion.

Saina is a four-time semifinalist at the Malaysia Open but lost to Japan's Akane Yamaguchi in the first and second round in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

She has a tough draw this year as well as she is likely to face Yamaguchi again in the quarterfinals. Before that, though, she might run into the prodigiously-talented teenager Goh Jin Wei in the second round. Goh is the reigning Youth Olympics and World Junior champion and is having her breakout year on the senior circuit this year, having made the semifinals of the Malaysia Masters and the German Open.

With this being Saina's first tournament post recovery, her focus will mostly be on assessing her fitness and readying herself for the bigger tournaments that are yet to come this year.

Can PV Sindhu arrest her recent slump?

Sindhu has made a quarterfinal and semifinal in the three tournaments she has played this year, a perfectly acceptable return for most players. But considering the lofty standards she has set since the Rio Olympics, she will be disappointed not to have won a tournament in the first quarter of the year.

Having failed to progress beyond the quarterfinals in her first five appearances at the tournament, Sindhu made the semifinals last year, where she lost to eventual champion Tai Tzu Ying.

Sindhu has slumped to sixth in the world rankings and desperately needs a good display here but her draw could not have been more difficult as she is most likely to face veteran Sung Ji Hyun in the second round. Sung defeated Sindhu in the opening round of the All England Open last month and has always troubled Sindhu with her nagging consistency.

If she gets past Sung, Sindhu's next two opponents are likely to be Chen Yufei and Tai Tzu Ying if she makes it that far. Chen has undoubtedly been the player of this year, having won the All England Open and is currently on a 10-match winning streak while World No. 1 Tai's achievements need no introduction.

Can Kidambi Srikanth recover from his India Open exertions?

Srikanth would likely have heaved a massive sigh of relief when Lee Chong Wei pulled out of the tournament. Lee has won the men's singles title in 12 of the tournament's last 15 editions and was slated to face Srikanth in the first round after an eight-month absence from the circuit due to his cancer treatment.

At the India Open, Srikanth reached his first final on the World Tour since October 2017 but had to navigate his way through four gruelling matches to reach that stage. That appeared to have taken a toll on him as he was run ragged by Viktor Axelsen in the final.

While he is unlikely to be challenged in the first two rounds, Srikanth will have his hands full in the quarterfinals, where he might run into the dangerous Tommy Sugiarto or reigning Olympic champion Chen Long.

Will HS Prannoy build on his promising display at the India Open?

Son Wan Ho's late pullout means that Prannoy will not have to face a top-10 player before the quarterfinals. Having struggled with various health issues for the major part of the last 12 months after having a breakout year in 2017, Prannoy will eye his maiden quarterfinal at the tournament.

Chou Tien Chen is the only seeded player in his quarter of the draw and Prannoy won their last meeting. With his big-hitting game, improved fitness and leaner physique, don't be surprised if Prannoy turns out to be the Indian who makes the deepest run at the tournament.

Predictions

Saina Nehwal to lose in the quarterfinals to Akane Yamaguchi.

PV Sindhu to lose in the quarterfinals to Chen Yufei.

HS Prannoy to lose in the quarterfinals to Chou Tien Chen.

Kidambi Srikanth to lose in the quarterfinals to Chen Long.