Spain Masters: Saina, Srikanth chase Olympic berth

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth are ranked 18th and 15th respectively, while being placed 22nd and 26th in the 'Race to Tokyo' rankings.

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth will look to boost their Race to Tokyo rankings with good performances at Spain Masters.   -  Getty Images

Seasoned Indian shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth will look to keep their Olympic hopes alive when they compete at the USD 170,000 Barcelona Spain Masters starting here on Tuesday.

The Indian duo was inconsistent in 2019 and didn’t enjoy a good start to the new year.

While Saina has crossed the first round in only one of the three events in 2020, Srikanth has lost in the opening round in all three tournaments that he has played so far this year.

Saina and Srikanth are currently ranked 18th and 15th respectively, while being placed 22nd and 26th in the ‘Race to Tokyo’ rankings, which considers only the points accumulated from the tournaments played in the last one year.

According to the BWF Olympic qualification rules, only two players from each singles category can qualify if their ranking is within the top-16 by April end.

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Among the Indians, world champion P. V. Sindhu and B. Sai Praneeth and men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have almost secured their berths for the Tokyo Games.

With the Olympic qualification cut-off date ending in April, there are only seven tournaments, including the Barcelona Spain Masters, left in the calendar and the Indian duo will have to produce consistent performances to earn a ticket to Tokyo.

London bronze-medallist Saina, who is looking to make her fourth Olympics, will begin her campaign here against Germany’s Yvonne Li.

The former world number one is likely to face Denmark’s Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt and third seeded Thai Busanan Ongbamrungphan on her way to the quarters, provided she wins her rounds.

Third seed Srikanth, on the other hand, will face fellow Indian Subhankar Dey, the 2018 SaarLorLux Open champion who notched up a morale-boosting win over world number 20 Indonesian Shesar Hiren Rhustavito in the Asia Team Championships on Saturday.

Srikanth, who was also a part of the team in Manila, won two of his singles matches and lost one last week and he would hope to go deep in the draw in the tournament.

Among others, world number 25 Parupalli Kashyap will meet Brazil’s Ygor Coelho, while H. S. Prannoy will face veteran Malaysian Daren Liew in the opening round.

Sourabh Verma, who is ranked 21st in the Race to Tokyo rankings, will square off against Israel’s Misha Zilberman, while Sameer will be up against B Sai Praneeth.

Praneeth, who is almost assured of an Olympic berth, had retired after pulling his hamstring during the Indian men’s team’s semifinal clash against Indonesia on Saturday.

In doubles, the women’s pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy will face the Chinese pair of Chen Lu and Xu Ya, while the men’s combination of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Krishna Prasad Garaga will cross swords with England’s Ben Lane and Sean Vendy.

The mixed doubles pair of Pranaav and Sikki will lock horns with Mathias Christiansen and Alexandra Boje.

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