A series of disappointing performances over the course of last year has left Saina Nehwal in a tight spot to seal a fourth successive Olympics berth in women’s singles badminton. Saina hasn’t won a title since Indonesia Masters in January 2019 and in fact, has eight first-round exits in her last 14 tournaments.
As per the rules, two singles players from each country make the cut for the Olympics provided they are in the top-16 of singles rankings. However, Saina is currently 18th in singles and 22nd in Olympics qualification.
With just few months left, the former Olympic bronze medallist is racing against time to punch her ticket for the Tokyo Games later this year. However, her husband and India shuttler Parupalli Kashyap feels that she needs to get her confidence back and a couple of positive performances would put her right back on track.
“It is getting tight now,” Kashyap told PTI. “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.”
He continued, “Saina is currently world no. 18 and she has to be inside 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.”
During 2019, Saina struggled with health and fitness issues that kept her from training and also forced her to miss several tournaments. “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,” said Kashyap.
“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 at Malaysia but the little training was not enough to sustain at Indonesia and Thailand,” he added.
Saina withdrew her name from the ongoing Premier Badminton League to focus on getting fit. “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 explained.
Kashyap himself has been pegged back by fitness issues but is steadily showing signs of improvements. “I strained my big toe in right foot three weeks before Malaysia, so I had to take two weeks off. It disrupted my December training plans. So, I could just train for a week. I played okay at Malaysia but it has been a struggle at PBL. I am training hard and trying to get my form back. I am world no. 25 now and I want to get into the top 15. I believe I belong there. So, I need to get some good performance,” he said.