Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth left it too late to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, says Vimal Kumar

Badminton - Commonwealth Games Day 11
Badminton - Commonwealth Games Day 11

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth left it too late, and that is the main reason they both missed out on qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, said Nehwal's former coach, U Vimal Kumar, on Saturday.

Former chief national badminton coach Vimal Kumar said both the ex-world No. 1 shuttlers, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, have themselves to blame for squandering the opportunity to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think both Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth should have sealed their respective Tokyo Olympics berths much earlier. They should not have left it too late. Ultimately it cost them dearly. They are only themselves to blame for this. They had many chances to qualify since 2019 but could not capitalize on them,” said the 58-year-old Vimal Kumar, who participated in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when badminton was first introduced in the Summer Games.

London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal couldn’t make her fourth successive Olympics, and Kidambi Srikanth, his second, after the sport’s governing body, Badminton World Federation (BWF), canceled the last three qualifying tournaments, including the Indian Open, due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.

“It is no doubt because of the pandemic several tournaments were canceled in the last year, but when they played they did not produce good performances. Consistency was missing from both Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth. Injuries to them were also one of the main reasons they could not perform up to their standards. All these factors put a lot of pressure on them at the last moment and when BWF canceled the last few tournaments it was the end of their hopes,” said Vimal Kumar, who won the Senior National men’s singles title consecutively for two years, 1988 and 1989.

Having coached Saina Nehwal for three years in Bengaluru from 2014 to 2017, Vimal Kumar is feeling bad for his former trainee. He is equally feeling disappointed for Kidambi Srikanth, as he was much closer to booking the Tokyo ticket.

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth absence big loss for India's medal prospects

The absence of the former world no. 1s at the Tokyo Olympics will be a big loss for a sport that has gained much-needed attention in recent years.

“The absence of Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth is a big loss for India. They should have been there. It is a sad thing that they missed the berth narrowly. Had they qualified, India's medal-winning chances would have certainly increased. Both Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth are experienced campaigners and I would have definitely loved to see them at Tokyo,” said Vimal Kumar, who guided Saina Nehwal to the world No. 1 ranking in 2015.

The head coach of Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), Vimal Kumar still feels that Saina can prolong her career if she remains injury-free and plays a limited number of tournaments in the next two years.

“Saina Nehwal is 31 now and she will have to be a little choosy when she chalks out plans for the next season. She is no longer getting younger. She cannot play every tournament as the body should also take on the burden of working out and traveling. With husband Parupalli Kashyap as coach now, Saina Nehwal should sit and draw a perfect schedule so that she can extend her career,” said Vimal Kumar, who quit as the national coach in 2006 to concentrate on coaching youngsters at the Bengaluru-based Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy.

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Edited by Nikhil Vinod