Seven times All-England champion Erland Kops had once remarked that there was no home ground for a champion and India's best hope, Saina Nehwal would do well to bear this in mind ahead of the $120,000 Yonex-Sunrise India Open Grand Prix commencing here Tuesday with qualifying rounds in women's singles.
For all her achievements, including attaining No.6 World ranking, Saina is yet to come good on home courts in a major international event. She had her chances last during the Indian Open and the World championships, but couldn't quite ascend the top step of the podium.
Kops' statement was in the context of a true champion having to perform and win be it at a hostile foreign venue or on a friendly home court. 'For a champion, there is nothing called a home ground. You need to perform against any opposition and in any condition. That is the hallmark of a true champion,' the legendary Dane had said.
Saina's major home success was at the Syed Modi Indian Grand Prix in December last, but faced no opposition and defeated compatriot Aditi Mutatkar, who is seeded third this time, in the final.
Going into the Grand Prix this week, Saina will be again under pressure to deliver in front of a home crowd that would be rooting for the top seed and also her counterpart Chetan Anand who heads the men's singles field.
Notwithstanding the depleted field in view of the absence of the top players, the tournament will not suffer for want of competitiveness. Saina and Anand, ranked No.19, besides a few from traditional powerhouses Indonesia and Malaysia should adequately compensate for the lack of star quotient.
Saina is expected to sail through the draw for a projected meeting with second seed Mew Choo Wong of Malaysia in the final. Both were quarter-finalists at the 2009 India Open and possess the best credentials to vie for the title.
Anand, should he live up to his billing, is expected to meet Malaysia's Mohd Hafiz Hashim, the 2003 All-England champion and seeded second, in the final. Hashim was a finalist at the 2009 India Open as the 10th seed. He lost to Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia) in the final, but had beaten Long Chen (China) in the semifinals. Incidentally, Chen had surprised top seed Choong Wei Lee (Malaysia) in the first round.
It is to be hoped that Anand will emulate Prakash Padukone by winning the Indian Open. Padukone had won the inaugural 1981 edition (then known as Indian Masters) at Pune when he was at the peak of his prowess.
Malaysians Fairuzizuan Mohammed and Zarkel Abdul Latif Mohammed, ranked 14 and top seeds in the men's doubles, begin favourites ahead of the Indian tandem of Rupesh Kumar and Sonave Thomas (No.19).
Singapore's Lei Yao and Shinta Mulla Sari (No.19) are the top seeds in women's doubles that contains a couple of strong Indian pairs like Ashwini Ponnappa-Jwala Gutta and Aparna Balan-Shruti Kurien.
The top Indian combination of Jwala and Diju Valiyanti (No.11) look the best pair for the mixed doubles crown.
While the main draw commences June 9, the women's singles qualifying rounds will be played tomorrow at the spruced up indoor stadium where four courts are being laid.