Thailand Open 2021: ‘Withdrawn’, ‘COVID-positive’ Saina Nehwal reinstated; to play first round match on Wednesday evening

After testing positive for COVID-19, Saina Nehwal was told that she, along with husband Parupalli Kashyap and HS Prannoy, would be moved immediately to a hospital, only for her to test negative hours later.

Shirish Nadkarni January 12, 2021 22:09:55 IST
Thailand Open 2021: ‘Withdrawn’, ‘COVID-positive’ Saina Nehwal reinstated; to play first round match on Wednesday evening

File image of Saina Nehwal. AFP

Timeline — Bangkok, Tuesday, 12 January, 09:55 am: One minute before India’s Saina Nehwal was scheduled to play her first-round match of the Yonex Thailand Open on Court No 3 against Malaysian greenhorn Kisona Selvaduray, she was informed by the tournament referee, Paisan Rangsikitpho, that her COVID-19 test, taken a day earlier, had been found to be positive, and that she was being withdrawn from the $1 million prize money World Tour tournament.

Saina was told that she, along with her husband Parupalli Kashyap and her Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) batchmate HS Prannoy, would be moved immediately to a hospital, where they would have to spend the next ten days in isolation quarantine. The Indian’s match against Selvaduray was declared a walk-over, but a re-test was also conducted on her, shortly before noon.

Timeline — Bangkok, Tuesday, 12 January, 7:30 pm: Saina was informed that the COVID-positive report on her was false, that both she and Prannoy have tested negative in the retest, and that their first-round matches have been rescheduled for the morning of Wednesday, 13 January, which is also a day reserved for first-round matches in all five events.

Therefore, in a Super 1000 tournament, in which India’s Tokyo Olympics bound singles players, PV Sindhu and B Sai Praneeth, sorely disappointed their fans by losing tamely on Tuesday to Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt (at 21-16, 24-26, 13-21 in 74 minutes on the centre court) and local lad Kantaphon Wangcharoen (at 16-21, 10-21 in a mere 36 minutes), Saina and Prannoy have been given a second chance to keep the Indian pennant flying.

One can, however, imagine the anguish that the three Indians had to suffer when they were declared COVID-positive on Tuesday morning after it had been clearly stated on 5 January that all 845 participants in the Yonex Thailand Open had been tested for the disease, found negative, and had been cleared to practice at the main stadium in carefully formed batches.

Saina’s husband, and former India No 1, Kashyap provided a blow-by-blow account of the roller-coaster ride that the Indian couple had been through, on a day when the country’s top mixed doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa eliminated the sixth-seeded Indonesian combination of Hafiz Faizal and Gloria Emmanuelle Widjaja (pronounced ‘Vijaya’) by a 21-11, 27-29, 21-16 scoreline.

“It was a very confusing turn of events,” said a depressed sounding Kashyap, in the evening on Tuesday. “Saina was preparing for her match in the morning when, one minute before she could enter the court, she was pulled out of the match, and told that she had tested positive. She was told that she would have to go to the hospital in an ambulance, and get further tests done."

“Then I got some instructions, saying that, since I had shared the room with her, I would also have to isolate myself, and not go for my match. We were told we had been withdrawn from the tournament, and our opponents had been given a walkover. I found this very strange, because there was always a chance that Saina would turn false-positive, and her match could be rescheduled for tomorrow, which is also a first-round day.

“Again, strangely, we did our test at 10:30 am yesterday, and were supposed to get our results within five hours, but she was only pulled out one minute before her scheduled match at around 10 am today, so they took nearly 24 hours to give us the results.

“The matter rests there now, with the BAI (Badminton Association of India) talking to the BWF (Badminton World Federation) on the entire situation. If Saina turns false-positive, we can re-schedule her match for tomorrow. All the media people have been asking me questions about the situation; and frankly, I didn’t have much clarity in the morning. I have a little bit more of clarity now, but I am not yet sure whether her match will be re-scheduled if she turns false-positive.

“The next thing about this test is that Saina and I were infected with COVID-19 on 30 November last year, and had a few symptoms. We were in isolation for 14 days, and tested negative on the twelfth day. We continued our isolation for a few days more, and re-started training on 18 December. We had about three weeks of preparation for this tournament.

“After coming to Bangkok also, we were tested twice, and we both turned in negative. Saina’s third test turned out positive, which was really confusing for us. We had also done a blood test for antibodies in India before embarking for Bangkok, and both Saina and I had sufficient antibodies in our blood. So it is really strange how this latest test has turned positive. We are really hoping that Saina turns false-positive, so her match is rescheduled for Wednesday morning, and we all can play.”

As things have turned out, Kashyap’s wishes have been granted, and all three Indians who were facing the prospect of ten days of quarantine in hospital will make their appearance on court on Wednesday. Saina’s match against Selvaduray will be the day’s final match on the centre court, while Kashyap faces the dangerous Jason Anthony Ho-shue of Canada at 12:55 pm on Court 3.

Saina now has the opportunity to make the most of her luck, and progress far into the competition. The Indian ace got a huge slice of luck when Japan’s third-seeded Nozomi Okuhara, against whom she was scheduled to play her lung-opener, withdrew at the last minute along with the entire Japanese contingent, ostensibly because two-time reigning world men’s champion, Kento Momota, tested positive for COVID-19.

With the exit on Tuesday of the sixth-seeded Sindhu, there is no seeded player left in the second quarter of the draw, clearing the way for Saina to make it to the semi-finals. Should she take Selvaduray in her stride, the Indian veteran will face Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan, who sidelined Sabrina Jaquet of Switzerland by a 21-16, 21-17 scoreline on Tuesday.

The winner of the second-round match will most probably face Sindhu’s conqueror, Mia Blichfeldt, in the quarter-finals. The Dane faces Iris Wang of the US in the second round, after the American sidelined Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt by the odd game in three in the opening round. All these players are clustered in the top half of the draw, where the clear favourite is the formidable top seed, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei.

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