Tokyo Olympics 2020: Inconsistency cost Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth more than cancellation of qualifying events

Would it be right to just blame the cancellation of tournaments for Saina and Srikanth missing out on Tokyo participation? And the answer would be an emphatic No.

Abhijeet Kulkarni May 29, 2021 13:12:36 IST
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Inconsistency cost Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth more than cancellation of qualifying events

Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth. Agencies

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) on Friday issued a statement making it clear that there would be no further change in the qualification system for the Tokyo Olympics and no other qualifying event will be held before the June 15 deadline. This effectively meant that London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal would not get a final hurray in the quadrennial event and former World No 1 Kidambi Srikanth has to now wait for at least another three years for another crack at a medal.

Both Srikanth and Saina needed to finish in the top-16 of the BWF Race to Tokyo Rankings to qualify as the second player from India to make the grade in their respective categories. However, Srikanth finished on 20th spot and Saina on 22nd.

As things stand now, only world champion PV Sindhu, world championship bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth and men’s doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Women’s doubles combination of N Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa can find a berth on the flight to the Japanese capital if any of the already qualified pairs opt out.

The last few months of the Olympic qualification period is generally a mad scramble for the last few slots but the COVID-19 pandemic, that stuck in February-March 2020 only made things more complicated. The Olympic qualification events were stopped in March last year after the All England Open and the BWF, in February this year, earmarked only those tournaments which were cancelled/postponed during the original qualification period to be considered for Race to Tokyo rankings.

This effectively meant that Saina and Srikanth had around seven events to stake their claims for the Olympic berth. But as things panned out, the players managed to play just two of those events with four in Asia and one in Europe subsequently got cancelled. Both the players needed to play at least one semi-final and two quarter-finals in the four event events in Asia and would have felt undone by the cancellations.

Srikanth could have even booked a Tokyo berth had the Singapore Open Super 500, the last event on the calendar was held, and the Indian could have possibly gone on to win the tournament.

But would it be right to just blame the cancellation of tournaments for Saina and Srikanth missing out on Tokyo participation? And the answer would be an emphatic NO.

Unlike a few sports in which Olympic qualification is based on performances in select events, the qualification process for badminton takes into consideration performance over a period of one year during which players can participate in any number of tournaments with their best 10 performances considered to arrive at the final ranking. This provides an opportunity for players to overcome dip in form, injury breaks and any other unforeseen challenges during the qualification period.

Despite the Asian leg of qualifying tournaments, starting from April 2021, getting cancelled, both Saina and Srikanth had managed to play 17 qualifying events since May 2019, when the Race to Tokyo kicked off.

Here is a look at their performances in those tournaments

Srikanth Race to Tokyo events performance

Name of tournament

Month/Year

Performance

Opponent he lost to

Indonesia Open Super 1000

July 2019

second round

Ng Ka Long Angus (HKG)

Japan Open Super 750

July 2019

first round

HS Prannoy (IND)

Thailand Open Super 500

August 2019

second round

Khosit Phetpradab (THA)

World Championship

August 2019

third round

Kantaphon Wangcharoen (THA)

Denmark Open Super 750

October 2019

first round

Anders Antonsen (DEN)

French Open Super 750

October 2019

first round

Chou Tien Chen (TPE)

Hong Kong Open Super 500

November 2019

Semi-final

Lee Cheuk Yiu (HKG)

Korea Masters Super 300

November 2019

Second round

Kanta Tsuneyama (THA)

Syed Modi Super 300

Nov/Dec 2019

Quarter-final

Son Wan Ho (KOR)

Malaysia Masters Super 500

January 2020

First round

Chou Tien Chen (TPE)

Indonesia Masters Super 500

January 2020

First round

Shesar Hiren Rhustavito (INA)

Thailand Masters Super 300

January 2020

First round

Shesar Hiren Rhustavito (INA)

Badminton Asia Team Championship*

February 2020

Team Event

Spain Masters Super 300

February 2020

Second round

Ajay Jayaram (IND)

All England Super 1000

March 2020

First round

Chen Long (CHN)

Swiss Open Super 300

March 2021

Semi-Final

Viktor Axelsen (DEN)

Orleans Masters Super 100

March 2021

Quarter-final

Toma Junior Popov (FRA)

 

Saina’s Race to Tokyo events performance

Name of tournament

Month/Year

Performance

Opponent she lost to

New Zealand Open Super 300

May 2019

First round

Wang Zhi Yi (CHN)

Sudirman Cup*

May 2019

Team Event

Thailand Open Super 500

August 2019

Second round

Sayaka Takahashi (JPN)

World Championship

August 2019

Third round

Mia Blichfeldt (DEN)

China Open Super 1000

September 2019

First round

Busanan Ongbamrungphan (THA)

Korea Open Super 500

September 2019

First round

Kim Gae Un (KOR)

Denmark Open Super 750

October 2019

First round

Sayaka Takahashi (JPN)

French Open Super 750

October 2019

Quarter-finals

An Se Young (KOR)

China Open Super 750

November 2019

First round

Cai Yan Yan (CHN)

Hong Kong Open Super 500

November 2019

First round

Cai Yan Yan (CHN)

Malaysia Masters Super 500

January 2020

Quarter-finals

Carolina Marin (ESP)

Indonesia Masters Super 500

January 2020

First round

Sayaka Takahashi (JPN)

Thailand Masters Super 300

January 2020

First round

Line Kjaersfeldt (DEN)

Spain Masters Super 300

February 2020

Quarter-finals

Busanan Ongbamrungphan (THA)

All England Super 1000

March 2020

First round

Akane Yamaguchi (JPN)

Swiss Open Super 300

March 2021

First round

Phittayaporn Chaiwan (THA)

Orleans Masters Super 100

March 2021

Semi-final

Line Kjaersfeldt (DEN)

Merely playing the team championship guarantees 10% of the player’s total ranking points at that stage.

A glance at the performance of both the players make it amply clear that they were far from consistent even for a stretch of 3-4 tournaments and it is this inconsistency that has cost them.

Srikanth was in decent form in the run-up to the qualifying period in 2019, reaching the final of the India Open in March 2019 and reached the quarter-finals of the Malaysia Super 750 and Singapore Super 500 events a month later.

But it looked like the pressure of the Olympic qualification race suddenly caught up with him as he struggled in the South Asian leg and then had to pull out of China Open due to a knee injury.

Srikanth is someone who takes more time to get back to his peak emotionally and mentally following an injury even if he had physically recovered. A tough opening round in Denmark and France also did not help his cause but he did get a breather when Kento Momota withdrew from the opening round of the Hong Kong Open and Chen Long conceded their quarter-final after just one game.

Tokyo Olympics 2020 Inconsistency cost Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth more than cancellation of qualifying events

File image of Kidambi Srikanth. AFP

However, Srikanth could not make it to the final and ended the year with a quarter-final finish in the Syed Modi International.

He then opted out of the Premier Badminton League to focus on the Olympic qualification race. The decision hardly bore any fruits as he lost in the first round of four of the five tournaments till the tour was suspended. His only victory outside the Group stage of the Badminton Asia Team Championship came against compatriot Subhakar Dey at the Spanish Masters, a tournament he reached early to acclimatise after leaving the team BATC mid-way as a special case.

To be fair to Srikanth, he looked in a much better touch after the tour resumed with the Denmark Open in October 2020 and also during the three tournaments in Thailand. He was struggling to close down matches but the spring in his steps was visible.

However, by the time the Olympic qualification events restarted, he had his task cut out since he was almost 8000 points behind the 16th ranked player Rasmus Gemke of Denmark. Even reaching the semi-finals in the Swiss Open and quarters of Orleans Masters were never going to be enough in the given situation and he would have banked on a special show in the Asian leg to get a toe in. Those tournaments ultimately got cancelled, leaving him helpless, but the race was probably lost in the first three months of 2020 itself.

In Saina’s case, the former World No 1 never really looked like her old self throughout the last three years with niggling injuries and stomach issues never really allowing her to enter tournaments in peak physical condition.

At times she looked out of breath during rallies and even gave up when the pace of the rallies got to her. The desperation of making every available tournament count did not really allow her to take a break from the events to work on her fitness and she was also playing catch up.

If one felt that the long break from March 2020 could help regain her fitness levels, the covid infection in November last year did not help her cause. Though she reached the semi-finals of the Orlean Masters thanks to a depleted field, she was definitely a pale shadow of herself with her last four appearance in the French city being the only time she has managed to reach the weekend rounds since the Indonesia Masters title triumph in January 2019.

Tokyo Olympics 2020 Inconsistency cost Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth more than cancellation of qualifying events

File image of Indian badminton star Saina Nehwal. AFP

Carolina Marin suffered an ACL tear in that summit clash and since then came back to win a couple of tournaments and is currently fourth in the Race to Tokyo rankings.

Saina hasn’t really spelled out her future plans and is probably just coming to terms with the fact that she won’t be able to play in her fourth consecutive Olympics. With no tournaments on the horizon in the near future, her fans would probably have to just wait and watch.

Updated Date:

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