Badminton was supposed to be one of India's stronger suits at the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but the scene is different altogether now with a few possibles failing to make the cut due to the lack of qualifying events. However, the four qualified shuttlers can still put on a strong show for India.
The introduction of Badminton at the 1992 Olympics opened up new avenues for India, yet nothing positive materialised until the 2012 London edition when Saina Nehwal notched up the nation's first-ever medal at the Games. That was bettered by a spirited PV Sindhu during the 2016 Rio Olympics, with her claiming a silver medal in the women’s singles event.
Although a few months ago many was expected that India would field their best ever contingent at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the cancellation of the Malaysia Open has put an end to all the debate. For now, we are certain that Saina Nehwal’s Olympic career is over, while Kidambi Srikanth can get another shot in Paris, three years from now, provided he keeps his graph upright.
In spite of the last-minute tweaks in the qualification process, four Indian shuttlers have already made the cut to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with each of them more than capable of producing magical results. So, without pondering about what could have happened, Indian fans should back the contingent which is set to appear at the postponed Olympics, starting on July 23.
Here are the four Indian shuttlers who have qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics:
Sai Praneeth (Men’s Singles)
Sai Praneeth would consider himself unlucky not to have qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but that has been compensated with his entry in the next edition of the showpiece event. In fact, he’s the only player in the men’s singles category to make the cut, thanks to his rankings. However, depleted competition time, since his bronze medal triumph at the 2019 World Championships, will put him in a spot of bother. Eight competitions in 2020/2021 compared to 18 in the preceding year (2019) mainly attributes to the pandemic situation and travel restrictions.
While the Indians were finally treated with some quality match experience at the TOYOTA Thailand Open earlier this year, Praneeth pulled out at the 11th hour after he tested positive for Covid-19. To rub salt into the wounds, his performance over the last few tournaments have been disappointing, with early exits showcasing just that. But, Praneeth feels that not only Indian players, but Olympic aspirants from other countries have also lost valuable practice time so there’s no scope of complaining.
Having taken a break in mid-May to spend some time with his family, Praneeth is back to training at the Gopichand Academy, in Hyderabad. Even though his long-term coach and mentor won’t travel him to Tokyo, Pullela Gopichand is shaping him up for the kill in the build-up to the showpiece event. With top stars like Kento Momota, Victor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen starring in the Tokyo meet, Praneeth needs to punch well above his weight to enforce a podium finish.
PV Sindhu (Women’s Singles)
PV Sindhu still remains India’s brightest medal prospect in Badminton at the upcoming spectacle, even though her preparations cannot be termed as ideal. But, the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist carries huge expectations en-route her Tokyo campaign, with over a billion Indians expecting her to better the hue of the metal. With her long-standing rival Carolina Marin - who also defeated her in the gold medal match in Rio - withdrawing from the event, the road is slightly easier for the Indian now.
But her form is questionable with the Hyderabad-based shuttler exiting in the semi-finals of the 2021 All England Open, losing to Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong. Not only that, she has others like Ratchanok Intanton, Nozomi Okuhara, Tai Tzu-ying and Chen Yufei who will pose huge threats to Sindhu’s medal aspirations at the Games.
To combat the different playing styles of her competitors, her Korean coach Park Tae Sang has been creating match-like situations in training sessions as part of preparations. Meanwhile, the cancellation of tournaments, like the Malaysia Open, meant that valuable match time for Sindhu was sliced down even further ahead of the mega-event.
However, she is using up the time to improve his technique and skill and also rectify her shortcomings. Even though her attack is strong, Sindhu feels that the defence is a weak link in her game, an area which she has been working on extensively since shifting her training base out of the Gopichand Academy. The women’s singles event at the Olympics will kick-start on July 24.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (Men’s Doubles)
The world no.10 men’s doubles pair can prove to be a dark horse at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, especially with them training under the watchful eyes of former Danish star Mathias Boe over the last four months at the Gopichand Academy, in Hyderabad. As stated by both the players, in a recent interview, the presence of Boe has proven to be quite influential in the build-up to the Games, with their coach buzzing on the sidelines with valuable inputs.
However, the loss to Kim Astrup/Anders Rasmussen in the round of 16 and semi-finals of the All England and the Swiss Open respectively cannot be deemed as positive results in the build-up to the Games. But, given the lack of tournaments and practice time availed in the past 12 months, the duo couldn’t have expected rosy outcomes. Yet, they are making up for the lost time and should get their batteries fully charged once the occasion arises.