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India Open 2019: Parupalli Kashyap nurses Olympic-size hope as he faces Viktor Axelsen for a place in final

New Delhi: Experienced Indian shuttler Parupalli Kashyap may have fallen off the radar after a steep drop in his rankings after the Rio Olympics, but the 32-year-old is still hopeful of securing a place for next year's Tokyo Games. Kashyap, a former India No 1, has been bedeviled by a string of injuries over the past few years, each of which has kept him out of tournaments and pushed his rankings further down. He is currently ranked 55 in the world.

Kashyap 's freefall has coincided with the steady rise of the likes of Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma, and B Sai Praneeth on the domestic circuit, with Srikanth, in particular, tasting significant international success too. While that is good news for Indian badminton, for Kashyap, it means he is no longer the sole torchbearer of men's singles in the country. Each of these factors means that Kashyap, a quarter-finalist at the 2012 London Olympics, is not an automatic shoo-in for Tokyo.

 India Open 2019: Parupalli Kashyap nurses Olympic-size hope as he faces Viktor Axelsen for a place in final

Kashyap marched into India Open semi-final on Friday. Image: BAI

"Yes, it is tough. We all (Indian players) are very good. They have been playing constantly on the circuit and have a better hang of what is happening and how to prepare. They can set their calendars for six months and decide which tournaments they want to play. I am not in that position right now. I just have to get my ranking up and then I can think about it," the former World No 6 said.

Kashyap missed the 2016 Rio Olympics due to a knee injury, leaving Srikanth the only Indian in the men's field. The Guntur boy did well to reach the quarter-finals before going down to Chinese great Lin Dan in three games.

"I am sure, whoever qualifies from among us will be a medal contender. Who qualifies will depend on how consistent we are, but if someone from 5-6 of us has to qualify, he has to be in top 10. Right now, Srikanth is there and Sameer is quite close. I think most of us are in top 25, so top 10 should be the aim from where you can think of qualifying," he said.

Speaking on his Olympic dreams, Kashyap said he doesn't merely want to qualify for the Games, but wants to go to Tokyo as a medal contender.

"I don't just want to qualify. I want to be the medal contender because I have already played an Olympics and I don't want a participant's badge on my CV. It is not very exciting. I want to be a medal contender and for that, I want to work really hard. If I don't make it, whoever makes it should make sure to come back with a medal." he said.

"The Olympic qualifications haven't started yet and I am trying to get my ranking up as much as possible and get into Superseries. If I can play the main draw in Superseries, I am sure I can get higher because I know the players on the circuit. It is just getting tough physically.

"In some tournaments, you don't have qualifying now because they are Super1000s and 750s; also, it is no longer All England Open Badminton Championships, it's All England Super Series. It was not like that before. Earlier, even the qualifiers could go on and win, now that option is not there. I want to be in those tournaments. These days, I am going for Saina and touring a lot. I want to play tournaments where I am traveling with her. Next week, I am going to Malaysia. I am going with her and will train with the team, but yeah, I am in the reserve four or something," he added.

Battling injuries

Kashyap looked primed for major international success after his Commonwealth Games gold in 2014, but a disappointing 2015 was followed by a knee injury that ruled him out of Rio Games. He then tore his calf muscle before dislocating his right shoulder at the 2017 edition of Premier Badminton League. All this while, he had issues with his shin, hamstring, and abdomen, which translated into a number of pull-outs and early exits.

On Friday, Kashyap beat Chinese Taipei's Wang Tzu Wei 21-16, 21-11 at the India Open, making it to his first semi-final at a Superseries-level event in almost four years. Pleasantly surprised with the way his body is currently holding up, Kashyap said he simply wants to enjoy his game.

"I am feeling good, and just want to continue the way I am playing. I am having a good run here, and had a good draw also, so I am just enjoying myself. I am not at my fittest yet, and I am not sure how the body is taking (the strain). I don't know why my body is feeling at ease of late. Maybe it is in better shape because of the training I have been doing over the past few days," he said.

Kashyap will play Denmark's World No 4 Viktor Axelsen for a place in India Open final on Saturday, and despite a 2-0 head-to-head in his favour, the Indian would be wary of the tall Dane. Kashyap's last win over Axelsen came four years back, and both players' trajectories have gone in opposite directions since then.

Axelsen took little time to set aside India's HS Prannoy in straight games on Friday, and despite admitting that he is not looking to peak yet, the 25-year-old is a serious title contender here. Kashyap, though, will look to enjoy his game, even as Olympic hope continues to flicker deep within.

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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2019 10:53:41 IST