For players like Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, the opportunities for qualifying for this year’s Olympic Games are fast shrinking as they have about five tournaments to book their tickets for Tokyo.
The recently-concluded Swiss Open was the first tournament of the year to be part of the Olympic qualification cycle and reigning badminton world champion P.V. Sindhu was the only Indian who managed to reach the final.
London 2012 Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal was knocked out in the very first round of the Swiss Open. A nation can enter a maximum of two players for each event in singles if they are ranked in the top 16 of the race to Tokyo’ rankings and Sindhu is already seventh, while Saina is currently 19th. She may be able to rise three spots to 16th and thus stand a chance at qualifying but then she also has to maintain that position.
Former men’s singles world No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth seems to have left behind his wretched run of form that held him back for much of the last two years. Srikanth reached the semi-finals of the Swiss Open before losing to world No. 1 and eventual champion Viktor Axelsen.
Srikanth is currently 13th on the world rankings while Sai Praneeth, who won bronze at the 2019 World Championships, re-entered the top 16 after his quarter-final finishes in Basel.
In men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are are sitting comfortably in the 10th spot. They are expected to be the only automatic qualifiers in the segment from India as the next highest pair from the country, Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy, are languishing in 35th place.
“I feel Srikanth, Sindhu, Chirag, and Satwik will qualify. Srikanth and Sindhu’s rankings will improve because of their performances in the Swiss Open. From my point of view those that do well in tournaments so close to qualification will benefit hugely,” said four-time national men’s doubles champion Uday Pawar.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) and its member associations are scrambling to hold tournaments with the plethora of complications created by quarantine periods and standard operating procedures amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It means that while for all means and purposes the Olympic qualification calendar has restarted, there is little to no certainty on whether tournaments will be held as per schedule or not. A case in point being the German Open Super 300 tournament, which was part of the qualification calendar but was canceled just under a month before it was scheduled to be held.
The qualification calendar itself was extended from April 25 to June 15. All this, accompanied by potential clashes in dates and the uncertainty around the Asian Championships with about five tournaments left to play in the qualification calendar.
While Pawar feels that Shetty and Rankireddy should try and maintain themselves within the top 8 so they get a relatively easy draw at the Olympics, it is not yet a lost cause for Saina.
“It won’t be possible for Saina to come into the top 10 but she can still break into the top 10. Those who have already cemented themselves for qualification, may not participate in many of the upcoming tournaments because they will just look to prepare for the Olympics. They will be big for those who are chasing qualifications or want to improve their rankings. For example, my advice to Chirag and Satwik was to qualify for the Olympics within the top 8 so that you get a better draw,” said Pawar.