Saina Nehwal would have been the first Indian shuttler to play in a fourth successive Olympics had she qualified for the Tokyo Games. With the series of qualifying events getting canceled, there was no chance of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist.
Ever since Saina, who also competed at Beijing (2008) and Rio (2016), didn’t qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, she has been keeping quiet and did not react at all.
However, Saina’s husband and fellow Indian badminton star Parupalli Kashyap came out in the open saying she was upset that BWF couldn't plan the remaining events better. As a result, Saina could not make the cut to the Tokyo Olympics. However, she has taken the outcome in her stride and is moving on.
“Saina was obviously upset when she came to know that she won’t be able to play in the Tokyo Olympics. It was her dream to play in her fourth successive Olympics. She has worked very hard for it and was looking forward to representing the country yet again. But, we all are experienced enough and sometimes things happen which are not in our control,” said Kashyap, who married Saina on December 16, 2018 in Hyderabad.
Both former world No. 1 Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth were victims to the current pandemic situation. The Badminton World Federation (BWF) had to cancel at least half a dozen tournaments due COVID-19, which prevented the Indian duo from qualifying.
In fact, Saina needed only one quarter-final appearance in the last seven tournaments which were canceled to book her Tokyo berth.
The 34-year-old Kashyap did not directly blame the authorities but said a better solution could have helped several shuttlers who were on the verge of Olympic qualifications.
“I am not blaming anybody. Everybody was right from their own perspective because circumstances were difficult. Everyone was playing safe and did not like to take risks. As an athlete we don’t like to give excuses. We have never done that. Maybe it was destiny that Saina is not going to Tokyo. If it's fate we all can’t do anything about it. However, my point is why didn’t the BWF hold all the four-five tournaments at one place in Europe which was possible instead of canceling them. It would have helped players like Saina and Srikanth to qualify if they had conducted the tournaments in a bio-bubble at one venue,” said Kashyap.
Indian badminton couple Saina and Kashyap, along with Gurusaidutt and his wife Amulya Gulapalli, had a much-needed vacation last week to refresh themselves. They visited historical sites such as Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur.
“The tour was not planned but it just happened. We went to Delhi for some work and then thought of going to see Taj Mahal in Agra and other places. We had a great time together and enjoyed ourselves. It was a fun-filled long holiday after a big gap. We all needed a break to recharge our batteries. It was just the kind of break needed for all of us. We were so bored because of the lockdown. We were also not training at that time as there was no tournament to participate in the near future so we decided to have a short vacation”
Saina has started training again for the season ahead: Kashyap
He said Saina resumed her training a few days ago while he was resting to heal his hip injury. Currently ranked 19 in the world, Saina is gearing herself up for the season ahead.
“Saina has started training again. She will soon begin competing in tournaments. To maintain the rankings, she has to play at least 15 tournaments a year. If you don’t play many tournaments your rankings slip further and then it becomes difficult to produce good results. It is easy to say from the outside that Saina must pick and choose her tournaments to extend her career but practically it’s not possible. She will try and play as many tournaments as possible to get back into the top 10 again”
Both Saina and Kashyap train at the Hyderabad-based Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy.
I am not the coach of Saina. I am just helping her out during practice and tournaments: Kashyap
Kashyap, who created history by reaching the quarter-finals at the 2012 London Olympics, becoming the first male player from India to do so, categorically denied that he was coaching Saina. He said he is just helping her out during tournaments and practice.
“It is not correct to say that I am Saina’s coach. I just help out during practice and tournaments. I have been doing this for the last so many years. We are sparring partners during practice. I still play and compete in tournaments. If we both happen to play the same tournament then I sit for her matches. However, if I have a match at the same time then I cannot sit,” said Kashyap, who had won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2014 at Glasgow.
There is a talk in the badminton circle that Saina’s career is ending soon. The argument is that the 31 year old cannot play for much longer. Kashyap doesn’t agree with that.
“She will play as long as she can. In this present situation the future is quite uncertain. You don’t know what will happen in the next few months with talk of a third wave and other things. I feel Saina still has a desire to excel and deliver results. Next year the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are happening and I am sure competing in those two big events must be on the back of her mind. As of now we are not looking too far and taking things step by step. In the last tournament she reached the semi-finals at the Orleans Masters in France in March. She is still capable of doing well at the international level,”
With Saina not getting any younger, she will have to maintain a high level of fitness to prolong her career.