Pullela Gopichand, the national badminton coach, is hopeful that Saina Nehwal will not only qualify for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but with better fitness levels can even emerge as a strong medal contender.
Speaking to India Today in the latest episode of the Inspiration, Gopichand said, "Even if Nehwal's fitness levels improve by 10% before the Games, she will emerge as a medal contender. She has the skills to beat the best on her day. With experience at the grand stage, she can never be counted out."
Gopichand's comments comes a few days after Nehwal's husband Parupalli Kashyap had admitted that her Tokyo Olympic dreams are skating on thin ice. Currently ranked world number 18 in the world, the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner will need to move into the top 16 by the cut-off date of April 28 to qualify for her fourth successive Summer Games.
"Saina is in a tight situation," Kashyap had said. "But I am hopeful that she will get through. There are 8-9 tournaments till the cut-off date, and the next three weeks will be important for her."
Nehwal only had one trophy to show in 2019, when she won the Indonesia Masters by defeating Carolina Marin in the finals. However, the next few months saw the badminton star struggle with injuries and fitness issues, as her performances dipped in the run-up to the Olympics.
She has played three tournaments in 2020, without any favourable results. While Nehwal was knocked out in the quarters of the Malaysia Open, she lost in the first round of both the Indonesia Masters and the Thailand Masters. The 29-year old now gears up to face Yvonne Li in the first round of the Spain Masters that begins from February 18, as she looks to pitch in with a few good showings to improve her rankings.