World champion P V Sindhu, along with B Sai Praneeth and N Sikki Reddy, hit the courts for training on Friday under strict safety protocols at the SAI Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad, ending a four-month-long coronavirus-forced hiatus. This was after the Sports Authority of India (SAI) decided to resume the national badminton camp for the eight Olympic hopefuls following Telangana government's approval on August 1. "I am very happy to have our elite shuttlers back for on-field training after this long break. We are fully equipped to resume training in a safe environment," Chief national coach Pullela Gopichand said.
The eight Olympic hopefuls also include London bronze-winner Saina Nehwal, former world no.1 Srikanth Kidambi, women's doubles player Ashwini Ponnappa and men's doubles pairing of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj. Saina, who is based in Hyderabad, didn't train on Friday, while the others, who had gone to their respective homes in March, are yet to return to the city. On Friday, Sindhu was the first one to train with Gopi and foreign coach Park Tae-Sang separately.
"Sindhu trained today from 6:30am to 8:30am. Gopi and Park were also present. She will be training everyday at the same time this week. In the evening, she will have her fitness training at Suchitra academy for agility and endurance," the Rio Olympics silver-medallist's father, P V Ramana told PTI. "She has been training at home so physically she is in good shape but there are no tournaments till October, so she can afford to go easy, no point exerting too much. We have to be careful."
After Sindhu, Praneeth and Sikki also trained at the academy from 8:30 to 10:30 am. "It was good to finally get to train after a long time. I started around 8:30-45am. Gopi sir and new coach Agus Dwi Santoso and a couple of feeders were there. All protocols like sanitising, thermal gun and oximeter were in place," said world no.13 Praneeth. The Indian shuttlers have been confined to their homes since March when the COVID-19 pandemic halted all sports, including badminton, across the globe with even the Tokyo Olympics being pushed to next year.
The Badminton Association of India (BAI) had earlier planned to conduct the national camp in Hyderabad from July 1 but didn't get a green signal from the state government. Sikki said it was tiring to hit the courts after such a long break. "It was a good session but it was tiring also. Everyone was just so happy to resume things. There was just me, coach Namrih Suroto and a couple of Indonesians for sparring. So the idea is to go slow and steady."
Asked about her women's doubles partner Ashwini, Sikki said: "There is no point for her to come now as there is no clarity about tournaments and also quarantine rules. Things will take some time, may be couple of weeks. Let's see how it goes as even one case will set us back." The training is being conducted in keeping with the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) drawn up by SAI, alongside the state government's regulations.
To ensure safety of athletes, the academy has been divided into colour zones. Only athletes and coaches will be allowed inside the green zone, or the field of play, while there are different zones earmarked for support staff and administrative staff who will have no access to the field of play. "When we arrived at the academy, it was not our regular entrance. There were different zones, so no physical contact. Even our shuttles are separate, each player was given two barrels of shuttles to use. I am very happy with the arrangements, just hope I get a few more players to train with," Sikki said.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) shut down the world tour and other sanctioned tournaments following the completion of the All-England in March due to the global health crisis. The governing body later unveiled a revised international calendar in May but no tournament has been possible so far. The BWF had also announced that ranking points earned at tournaments during the original qualification phase will be maintained. It had earlier frozen the world rankings and made the standings on March 17 the basis for entry and seedings on resumption of the calendar.