Tokyo Olympics 2020: Difficult road ahead for Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth
The badminton season kicks off with the Malaysia Masters and with it begins the race to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2020. The chances of Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, two of India's finest players, seem slim.
As mentioned above, the badminton season begins with the 2020 Malaysia Masters taking place at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur between January 7 to January 12. The best players from across the world will be vying for the US $400,000 Prize Money in the Super 500 Tournament.
The yearly roller coaster of tournaments has begun. A majority of the top Indian shuttlers are also taking part in the grand event.
The dynamic Men's doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are more or less assured of their chances of making the cut. Sai Praneeth and PV Sindhu are also nearly assured of a spot in Tokyo.
However, two of the country's favourites, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, remain doubtful.
According to the BWF rankings, PV Sindhu is currently ranked 6th while Sai Praneeth is ranked 11th. Meanwhile, Chirag and Satwiksairaj are ranked 12th in the Men's doubles rankings.
However, for making it to Tokyo, the Olympics Rankings will be considered. Only the top 16 in each category will get to catch the flight for the 2020 Olympics. The cut-off date for Olympic qualification is April 26, 2020, and the aforementioned players are likely to make the cut with good Olympic Rankings presently.
In the present scenario, Saina's Olympic ranking is 25 while Srikanth's Olympic ranking is 24. The country's ace shuttlers will need to pick up a good number of points to really improve their chances of making it to Tokyo 2020.
On the bright side, a total of 10 tournaments are going to be played before the cut-off date. Progressing to the Quarterfinals and Semifinals of six of these 10 tournaments can help shuttlers gain a good number of points, and in turn, improve rankings.
2019 was not the best of years for both Srikanth and Saina. Saina's only triumph was at the Indonesia Masters in January 2019.
On the other hand, Srikanth was also not at his best. In the 16 tournaments which he played in 2019, Kidambi only reached the final once. Furthermore, the 26-year-old suffered three second-round losses and made as many as four first-round exits. However, former World Number 1 made it to seven quarterfinals.
Srikanth will kick start the Malaysia Masters by facing 2nd seed Chou Tien-chen in Round 1 itself.
In the Indonesia Masters next week, Kidambi will be facing Shesar Hiren Rhustavito of Indonesia in the first round. He has been handed a tough draw and is likely to square off against fifth seed Victor Axelsen in Round 2 and top seed Kento Momota in the quarterfinals.
On the other hand, Saina will begin the Malaysia Masters by playing a Qualifier against Lianne Tan. She is likely to meet 8th seed An Se-young in the 2nd round. Furthermore, her quarterfinal clash may be against either Akane Yamaguchi or Carolina Marin.
The Indonesia Masters will also be interesting for Saina as she might go head to head with fellow Indian shuttler and 5th seed PV Sindhu in the 2nd round itself.
Hence, the road ahead is not easy for both Kidambi and Saina as far as the inaugural two tournaments of the year are concerned.
Olympic qualification is at stake for Saina and Kidambi. Both are training extensively and their entire focus is on the upcoming International tournaments.
Training well and keeping injuries at bay will also be pivotal to improve their chances of making it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The ace Indian shuttlers will hope to iron out the flaws in time and aim for a spectacular run in the coming events.