The Malaysia Masters 2023, starting with the qualifiers on Tuesday, is a crucial tournament for Indian badminton players, with the Olympic qualification cycle already underway.
The Super 500 tournament is the first of five straight weeks of top-flight action on the BWF Tour. After last week's Sudirman Cup disappointment, these next five weeks offer Indians a chance to build some momentum, stack up on vital ranking points and get a head start on the road to Paris.
All of India's singles stars such as PV Sindhu, HS Prannoy and Lakshya Sen, will be in action in Malaysia. India had a sizeable contingent in the singles qualifiers as well, with Ashmita Chaliha and Malvika Bansod making it to the main draw, which starts Wednesday. The draws, though, are not very kind and their form has been very erratic.
Also, there will be no doubles representation with fifth seeds Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty pulling out at the last minute and no one signing up in women's and mixed doubles.
Here's a lowdown on Indians' draw and chances this week:
PV Sindhu vs Line Christophersen
Aakarshi Kashyap vs Akane Yamaguchi
Ashmita Chaliha vs Han Yue
Malvika Bansod vs Wang Zhi Yi
PV Sindhu, currently ranked 11th but seeded sixth, could make a deep run with a relatively easier draw this time. She lost both her matches at Sudirman Cup last week, but put one of her better performances since a return from a five-month injury layoff. She has won the Malaysia Masters twice before, in 2013 and 2016, and will hope it proves to be a happy hunting ground again.
Sindhu starts off against world No 28 Line Christophersen of Denmark, who she has a 4-0 record against. In the second round, she will play the winner of Aya Ohori vs Lalinrat Chaiwan. Her first test will be in the quarterfinals, with likely opponents being Zhang Yi Man or Ratchanok Intanon.
All other Indians will face a top seed in the opener itself.
Saina Nehwal pulled out of yet another tournament and was replaced by Aakarshi Kashyap, who now faces of the unenviable task of playing world No. 1 and top seed Akane Yamaguchi. The Indian lost their only meeting so far.
Ashmita Chaliha will take on fourth seed Han Yue (1-0) and Malvika Bansod starts against second seed Wang Zhi Yi (1-0).
HS Prannoy vs Chou Tien Chen
Lakshya Sen vs Loh Kean Yew
Kidambi Srikanth vs Toma Junior Popov
India's men's singles players' luck with the draw continues to be rough with not a single one seeded.
HS Prannoy, who is India's highest ranked player (reached a career high of World No 7 last week), faces sixth seed Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei for the second time in as many weeks. The India is down 3-6 in the head-to-head and lost to him last week at the Sudirman Cup. If he manages a win, he will likely face All England Open champion Li Shi Feng next. Jonatan Christie is the other seed in this quarter.
Lakshya Sen will open his campaign against former world champion Loh Kean Yew, who is the seventh seed. However, the Indian, who is now ranked 22 in the world, has a superior 4-3 record against the Singaporean. He could likely face Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong next with second seed Anthony Sinisuka Ginting the other seed in the section.
Srikanth has a relatively easier opener against Toma Junior Popov of France, who he leads 2-1 against. If he progresses, he will take on the winner of Kanta Tsuneyama and eighth seed Kunlavut Vitidsarn. This section of the draw is a bit more open with the withdrawal of world no. 1 Viktor Axelsen.