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February 20, 2020
By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, Jan 22 (IANS) Four weeks into the Olympic year and the badminton qualification process has entered its home run. P.V. Sindhu and Sai Praneeth’s medals at the 2019 World Championships hold them in good stead and they are more or less assured of a place in the Tokyo Olympics. Doubles pair Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty’s recent upturn in form has resulted in them being in a safe zone in the qualification rankings. Beyond them, however, the picture becomes murky, particularly for Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal, two names that not too long ago were touted as medal prospects for India come Tokyo 2020.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) states that two players from a singles category can qualify only if their rankings lie within the top 16 of the world rankings list which is compiled on the basis of results from April 29, 2019 and April 26, 2020.
With Sindhu placed sixth in the qualification rankings, Saina will need to be within the top 16 to be assured of a place in the Indian contingent that goes to Tokyo.
London Olympic bronze medallist Saina has played three tournaments thus far in 2020 and has gone past the first round only once. She last won a title at the 2019 Indonesia Masters in January 2019 and in the 14 tournaments she has played since, Saina has managed to go past the first round only on six occasions.
This has resulted in her ranking slipping to 18th which is the first time in 10 years that she has slipped out of the top 16. More importantly, she is placed a lowly 22nd in the Olympic qualification rankings as of January 22. Her latest disappointment came on Wednesday when she was knocked out of the Thailand Masters in the first round, alongwith the rest of the Indian contingent in the tournament.
Srikanth finds himself in more choppy situation. He had risen to the top of the singles rankings in 2017 when he won the Indonesia Open, Australian Open, Denmark Open and French Open between June and October that year. The French Open win remains his last title as injuries caught up with him and led to a dip in form. He has struggled to reproduce that form since then and his best result in 2019 was runners-up at the India Open in March.
Srikanth has suffered first round exits in all three tournaments he has played thus far in the year. He has slipped to 16th in the world rankings and is 26th in the Olympic qualification rankings. As is the case with Saina, Srikanth will need to get into the top 16 so as to ensure that he gets a spot in Tokyo alongwith Sai Praneeth as things stand. He lost to Indonesian Shesar Hiren Rhustavito in the first round of Thailand Masters on Wednesday.
With rankings that will be released on April 28, 2020 being the final consideration for the list of players, Saina and Srikanth now have just seven tournaments to make it to the list. Srikanth had stated earlier that the tight schedule has played a role in his seemingly never-ending slump in form. Saina has had her fair share of injury struggles in 2019. Ironically, problems caused by a tight schedule has led to both facing a situation where they have to play as many tournaments as they can in the run-up to the Olympics.
(Rohit Mundayur can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)