Race to Tokyo 2020: Halfway through, where do Indian men's singles shuttlers stand?
With 27 weeks passed in the Olympics qualification calendars, where do our Indian men's singles shuttlers stand in their race to qualify?
Plenty of debates inflated in the past one year ever since the Badminton World Federation (BWF) in 2018 revamped its Olympics qualification procedure for shuttlers. Many experts have come down to suggest the new Olympic qualification for badminton players to be unfair and putting plenty of strain on the aspirants.
As per the BWF regulations, it is now compulsory for the top 15 players of the world — in singles — and the top-10 pairs in doubles to play a minimum of 12 out of 15 tourneys that are World Tours. Otherwise, a penalty will be levied. The Olympic qualification period for the Tokyo Olympics begins on 29 April 2019. The BWF will consider the ranking list, to be published on 30 April 2020, to determine the spots for the Olympics. Nations can enter a maximum of two players each in the men's and women's singles, if both were ranked in the world's top 16; otherwise, one quota place until the roster of thirty-eight players had been completed.
To decode the rule, in both the men's and women's singles category, a maximum of two players from Top 16 - in the 52-week period- will be able to participate at the quadrennial event. Going by the norm, let's take a look at how Indian men's singles players fare in terms of qualifying to the Olympics -- the list updated on 5th November 2019, the 27th week of the Olympic qualification calendar, while all the Indian men's singles players have crashed out from the ongoing Super 750 China Open.
Any guesses who is India's best bet right now? It might be surprising, but only Sai Praneeth finds a place among the top-16 of the qualification list right now at the 10th position. To assess the performances this year, no other men shuttler from the country has tasted as much success as the 27-year-old Hyderabad lad. In an otherwise lacklustre year, wherein most of the tournaments Praneeth failed to go past beyond Round of 16, he proved his mettle at the top-tier World Badminton Championships in August, where he clinched the bronze medal. He became only the 2nd Indian men's singles shuttler after Prakash Padukone in 1983 to win a medal at the Worlds.
A month before World Championships, Praneeth also clinched the bronze medal at the Japan Open. At both the Japan Open and Worlds, Praneeth faced the formidable Japanese Kento Momota in the semis, who tops the list so far in the race to Tokyo. Within the qualification period so far, Praneeth has played a total of 10 tournaments amassing 44,090 points.
The next Indian name in the list finds his name at the 20th position, Parupalli Kashyap, who is presently World no. 25, lost to Denmark's Anders Antonsen in the RD 16 of the China Open. His best performance this year came during the Super 500 Korea Open, where he clinched the bronze medal after going down against Momota in the semis. He also reached the final of 100 Canada Open, where he lost to China's Li Shi Fen. He has a total of 32,010 points playing ten tournaments so far.
Sourabh Verma finds himself in the 22nd position with 31,500 points in 12 tournaments. His best tournament this year turned out to be the lowly-ranked Super 100 Vietnam Open and Hyderabad Open where he clinched gold medals.
In no. 32, stands 27-year-old H.S. Prannoy who was not in the circuit for a long time this session owing to his injuries and a viral dengue disease. After a two-month hiatus since the World Championship, where he lost to Momota in RD16, Prannoy stepped into the court only at the China Open where he crashed out in the opening round. He has played nine tournaments in the past 27 weeks and picked up 26,510 points.
However, the most startling position in which one finds oneself is India's highest-ranked, world no. 10 shuttler Kidambi Srikanth who could play only six tournaments since April, where his best finish have been at quarters of Super 750 Malaysia Open and Super 500 Singapore Open. Even the youngster Lakshya Sen finds himself in a better position at no. 42, who recently performed extraordinarily to clinch the top honours at the Sarrlorlux Open 2019.
As we set our foot in the second week of November in 2019, there's still a long journey to make till 30 April 2020. With 27 more weeks remaining till the final list to be prepared, tables may turn soon with players coming out of hiatus and winning big-ticket tournaments. Keep an eye at this space as we will post regular updates after each tournament concludes on how each of male contenders race towards the coveted Olympics spot.