Former World No.1 Saina Nehwal is presently up the creek as far as her Tokyo Olympics ambition is concerned but chances are that a couple of good performances in the remaining qualifying tournaments can put her back in contention, believes husband and mentor Parupalli Kashyap.
Currently ranked 22nd, Saina has to move into the top 16 in order to be in the race to Tokyo rankings with the cut-off date coming to a close in April. The BWF Olympics qualification rules suggest only two players from each singles category can qualify if their ranking lies within the Top-16 by April 26. The points earned from tournaments during this period only will be considered for qualification. Going by the present state of order, only P V Sindhu and Sai Praneeth have more or less assured berths for the Olympics in the singles event, while Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have assured a place in the doubles event.
On Wednesday, Saina joined the ruling BJP and is likely to campaign for the party ahead of the February 8 Delhi election. A 2015 World Championship silver medallist and two-time Commonwealth Games champion, Saina is racing against time to compete in what can be her fourth successive Olympic appearance. "It is getting tight now. There are two more weeks before the Spain Masters (February 18-23). It is a crucial time. She has to get her confidence back. I think she will be okay. A couple of good weeks and she will be back on track. But her body has to support her," Kashyap told PTI.
Out of the 16 tournaments Saina played in 2019, she had won only the Indonesia Masters in January. Only in six tournaments, she could reach the quarters and beyond it. First and second-round exits have been haunting her for long. This has resulted in her ranking slipping to 18th which is the first time in 10 years that she has slipped out of the top 16. Thus far in 2020, she has played three tournaments and has gone past the first round only once — Saina suffered a quarter-final defeat at the hands of Olympic Champion Carolina Marin at Malaysia Masters. More importantly, she is placed now on a lowly 22nd in the Olympic qualification rankings.
Explaining further, Kashyap, himself a former world no. 6 singles player, said: "Saina is currently world no. 18 and she has to be inside the top 16 by April 28. She has 49000 points and she has to get to around 53000 points by that time, so basically she has to make 4000-5000 points in the next eight tournaments. She has to defend points at All England and Asian championship. So she has to basically make four quarters or semifinals. She has to play better in next few tournaments and she can still make it."
Kashyap regarded health and fitness issues as the reason for the London Olympics bronze medallist’s dismal form. “She had gastro problem in Korea, was bothered by pancreatitis. She was also carrying niggles to ankle, shin and toe, so something or other was cropping up. It was just bad luck. She wasn't able to train. She was in constant pain and had to skip 4-5 tournaments and also lost confidence. It was a tough time. After Hong Kong last year, she had to take time off because of pain in shin and toe. She had to take injection and couldn't train for two weeks. She still managed to play quarters in Malaysia but the little training was not enough to sustain in Indonesia and Thailand,” said Kashyap.
However, Kashyap is confident that the right amount of training and hard work will help put Saina back in contention. "She pulled out of PBL, so she will train for another two weeks. She is in better shape now, she can take little more load in training. She has entered for Spain Masters (February 18-23), that is where she will play next,” he added.
"She is a player who has won medals at the Olympics. She wants to reach a stage where she'll start fighting for titles again," he told IANS. "I feel she is a step or two behind and just has to train for a period of 4-6 weeks. That's what she is trying now. These are crucial times but hopefully, she can stay healthy. A couple of good performances and everything changes. Then you can see a different side of Saina,” he signed off.