It has been a long halt for the sport of badminton amid the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. But the turn of the year has brought a breather, as badminton is set to make its return with the three-tournament cluster, consists of the YONEX Thailand Open (12-17 January), the TOYOTA Thailand Open (19-24 January), and the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020 (27-31 January), which will wrap up the 2020 season. The tournaments to be held within a bubble under strict health and safety protocols.
It will be the first time that such a cluster of three premier tournaments is being held in a single city; coming after a season, which saw the cancellation or postponement of a number of events, it will mean long-awaited deliverance for all those who were missing the thrill of high-level competition.
Once again, we will be watching our star shuttlers engaging in some swift nerve-wracking battles on the court. The team, including Olympic hopefuls Saina Nehwal, B Sai Praneeth, and Kidambi Srikanth, left for Thailand to compete in back-to-back BWF World Tour Super 1000 events.
Srikanth Kidambi last participated in the Denmark Open in 2020
While Srikanth had participated in the Denmark Super 750 in October, for the rest of the squad it will be the first event in nearly 10 months, after the COVID-19 pandemic had shutdown all tournaments globally.
Sindhu last played competitively at the All England Championships in March this year before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the sport to a halt.
In September, the reigning world champion had pulled out of Denmark Open. After that, she had agreed to play in the Uber Cup, which was eventually postponed.
To plunge straight into India's chances in the Thailand Opens, one must consider the two tournaments would be a blessing in disguise for India with Japan and China withdrawing their teams from the tournament.
Badminton world number one from Japan, Kento Momota tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday, prompting the withdrawal of all Japan's players, while China has withdrawn after a surge of COVID-19 cases in Thailand. Without the two nations that are considered powerhouses in badminton, India shuttlers have slim chances of winning the tournaments.
No impetus in India's Olympics race
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced the tournament calendar for the first half of 2021, which includes 17 tournaments that will serve as qualification tournaments for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
However, The Olympic Qualifying period for the Race to Tokyo will restart in 2021 and the first tournament counting for qualification will be the Yonex Swiss Open 2021 to be held from March 2-7.
Parupalli Kashyap and Saina Nehwal (Source: Times of India)
The qualification period will last till the India Open 2021 to be held from May 11-16 in New Delhi. The qualification will be determined from the Race to Tokyo Rankings published on May 18. BWF Council decided that this will also be used for seedings the Tokyo Olympics. The BWF world rankings will reopen following the World Tour Finals 2020 to be held from January 27-31 in Bangkok. The calculation of the next BWF world rankings list will be announced on February 2.
Could Thailand Open be given a miss by Indians?
Indian shuttlers could have skipped participating at the Thailand Open following the suits of Japan and China, as the number of coronavirus cases has recently surged in the country. Health is a big concern at this point of time because they have to be prepared for the tournaments starting in March, which would be the real challenge for the shuttlers to stay in their race to the Tokyo Olympics. Without qualification race and rankings into consideration, the Thailand Open doesn't seem to be adding much significance in the shutlers' positioning, apart from lifting the Indian team's morale, where the majority of the players haven't participated in competitive badminton for long.
India's chances of winning the Thailand Open
India has a pretty fair possibility of lifting the title with some of the ace shuttlers from the world withdrawing from the tournament. With Nozomi Okuhara, Aya Ohori, Akane Yamaguchi out of the scenario, Sindhu and Saina would mainly be expecting a tough contest against Spain's Carolin Marin and Taiwan's Tai Tzu Ying, in the women's singles category. Whereas, the men's brigade would be mainly expecting competitions from Chou Tien Chen of Taiwan and the Danish third and fourth-seeded Anton Antonsen and Viktor Axelsen, respectively.