Camera by Shiv Kumar Maurya.
Edited by Rahul Sanpui.
Is Saina Nehwal’s Olympic career over? Did Kidambi Srikanth peak at the wrong time in the Olympic cycle?
And are two of India’s top badminton players not going to make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics? Big questions surround Indian badminton as we focus on their Olympics qualification in this week’s Spotlight.
First off, a quick explanation on who and how badminton players qualify for the Olympics.
Two players from the same category can compete from one country if they qualify on merit. Merit being that they are ranked in the top 16 based on their rankings during the April 29 2019 to April 26 2020 window.
Who All Make The Cut?
Currently, only two Indians and one men’s doubles pair look set to make the trip to Tokyo.
PV Sindhu who is placed 6th in the women’s rankings, Sai Praneeth who’s placed 11th in the men’s and the men’s doubles pair of Satwik and Chirag who are ranked 8th.
And this is where the trouble begins.
Saina Nehwal, is way off the qualification mark, ranked 22nd and Kidambi Srikanth, too, is unlikely to make the cut, ranked 26th. Now, this is not the world rankings, this is their ‘Race to Tokyo’ rankings based only on the points accumulated from the tournaments played in the last one year.
Can Saina/Srikanth Still Qualify?
If the two former world number 1s play well, then their chances of qualifying for Tokyo are great because there’s still 7 tournaments between now and the cut-off date for the rankings.
In fact, there’s the All England in March which offers 12,000 points to the winner, the Malaysia Open in March end, which has 11,000 points and also the Singapore Open in April which carries 9,200 points. Starting with the Barcelona Open on 18 February Srikanth and Saina will be facing a crucial time.
For context, as things stand, here’s a look at how many points separate Saina and Srikanth from the 16th ranked players. Saina currently has 39,437 points, Srikanth has 36,820. Sung Ji Hyun has 46,240 points while the men’s 16th ranked player has 45,760.
Current Form in The Way
One title and both should make the cut, right? Well, that’s easier said than done, considering the form they're in right now.
In 2020, Saina has played 3 tournaments and gotten past the first round only once. Kidambi Srikanth has also played 3 and exited in the first round all the three.
In fact, since her Indonesia Masters title last Jan, Saina has played 17 tournaments and made it past the first round only 7 times. She has also failed to reach the semi-finals even once since.
This January was also the first time in 10 years that Saina fell out of the top 16 in the world rankings giving one an idea of the slump the Indian ace is facing.
Similar trouble for Kidambi Srikanth who stunned the world by winning 4 Super Series titles in 2017 and rose to the number 1 ranking in 2018. However, his best finish in 2019 was the India Open where he was the runner-up but unfortunately, those points, too, will not count for Tokyo.
Since July 2019, he has played 11 tournaments and exited in the first round 6 times, in the second round 3 times and made it to just 1 semi-final and 1 quarter-final.
"“I really want to participate in the Olympics and do well. I know I have gone through a tough phase in the last six months, but I am looking forward to regaining my full fitness and doing well.”" - Kidambi SrikanthMore Trouble in Indian Badminton
Sindhu and Srikanth’s qualification isn't the only concern for national coach Pullela Gopichand.
His top ward PV Sindhu, too, has hit a slump at the worst possible time. Since winning the historic gold at the World Championships in August Sindhu has failed to reach even the semis in her 9 outings so far making the quarters in just 2 tournaments.
Her slump also coincides with the departure of her coach Kim Ji Hyun, left right after the World Championships and later alleged that Sindhu was a 'heartless' ward who did not check on her when she was unwell. A claim that has been strongly denied by Sindhu’s camp.
Kim, however, isn’t the only coach to leave the Gopichand Academy in the last few years - Mulyo Handoyo who coached Kidambi Srikanth through his title-winning spree too departed soon after which coincided with Srikanth’s slump.
Earlier this season, doubles coach Tan Kim who brought India’s most successful doubles pair – Satwik and Chirag, together – also announced her departure.
There's a high attribution rate and many unanswered questions but during these crucial months for Indian badminton one can only hope the magic of Pullela Gopichand comes through for India, once again.
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