With widespread uncertainty all around, shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth's Tokyo Olympics hopes are once again under threat following the travel ban imposed by Malaysia.
The 2021 Malaysia Open, which is supposed to be played from May 25 at the Axiata Arena, will be acting as the penultimate Olympic qualifier. However, as reported by The Star, Malaysia has imposed a temporary ban on flights in-bound and out-bound from India, thereby hampering travel plans for Olympic-aspiring shuttlers like Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth.
In the wake of the horrifying second wave of COVID-19 cases in India, countries like Malaysia, UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand are once again shutting off their borders to control the spread of the virus, and Malaysia is the latest to join the list.
With this development, hopes for Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth continue to dim in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, with chances of them participating in the Malaysia Open 2021 also slipping away. With June 15 being the decided last date for Olympic qualification, time is running out for both.
Qualification seems near-impossible for Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth
With their home tournament India Open 2021 having been indefinitely postponed, only two Olympic qualifiers - the Malaysia Open 2021 and the Singapore Open 2021 - now remain.
This recent development spells trouble for both Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, who absolutely need to participate in the remaining Olympic qualifiers. Sadly, Saina Nehwal's chances of making it to a fourth consecutive Olympics seem the least at this juncture, placed as she is in No. 22 in the race-to-Tokyo rankings. Struggling with her form for the last couple of years, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist is desperate for consistency as she begins to prepare for her swansong on the BWF tour.
For the Rio Olympics quarter-finalist Kidambi Srikanth, the path to enter the Top 16 is getting tougher by the day. With India Open 2021 not being a playable option right now, Srikanth had pinned his hopes on Malaysia Open and Singapore Open, where he had to notch up great performances. Placed at No. 20 on the race-to-Tokyo rankings, Srikanth might have to give the upcoming Olympics a miss if he cannot participate in the BWF Super 750 event, due to the temporary travel ban.
"I don’t know what’s in store anymore. Ideally, the Olympics should have been ori ginally scheduled for the end of this year, so there’s enough time for qualification events...It’s still not over for me, though. If I can manage the semi-final in Malaysia and the quarter-final in Singapore, that’ll be good for my qualification chances. Of course, that’s assuming these competitions take place." said Kidambi Srikanth in a recent interview with ESPN India.
Furthermore, in the absence of both Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, the pressure will mount on Rio silver medalist PV Sindhu and 2019 World Championships bronze medalist B. Sai Praneeth, who are more or sure of going to Tokyo.