For 3-time Olympian Saina Nehwal, time is of the essence as she finds herself in a tricky spot in the Race to Tokyo rankings. Finishing as a semi-finalist at the recently concluded Orleans Masters 2021, Saina Nehwal looked eager to get back to winning ways.
With a little over two months remaining until the Olympic window for qualifying closes on June 15, Saina Nehwal is majorly pressed for time. Ranked at World No. 19, Nehwal has a lot of work cut out for her in the coming months if she intends to make it to Tokyo this year.
To qualify for the quadrennial multi-sporting extravaganza, Saina Nehwal needs to hoist herself up the ladder of the rankings and stay within the top 16 players on the BWF tour. While this seems like a fairly achievable job, it won't be a cakewalk for the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist. Nehwal will have to battle past a lot of young and talented competition.
Saina Nehwal's good run at the Orleans Masters is a positive indication for the future
Over the last couple of years, Saina Nehwal's form has dropped considerably, provoked by the many injuries crippling her career. With her last title win coming way back at the 2019 Indonesia Open against Dinar Dyah Ayustine from Malaysia, it has been a while since Nehwal has lifted a trophy.
Even in 2021, Saina Nehwal got off to a rocky start at the Thailand leg of tournaments in January. Similarly, at the Swiss Open or the All England Open, Nehwal failed to make a mark.
However, the former World No. 1 player, on whom a biopic has just been released, was sensational to watch at Orleans. Having had to retire at the All England Open due to injury issues, Saina Nehwal showed no such drawbacks in her display of badminton at the BWF Super Tour 100 event.
Losing to the eventual winner of the Orleans Masters, the young Line Christophersen, in the semi-finals, Saina Nehwal's run till the last four was impressive and a welcome sight. With the Orleans event being an Olympic qualifier event, Saina Nehwal was also able to collect 3,850 precious points from it, having finished as a semi-finalist.
However, this performance is a clear and positive indication of Saina's growing power of resurgence as she plans to shift things to the next gear in the coming months in hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
Tricky road ahead for Saina Nehwal
To make it to Tokyo, Saina Nehwal will have to considerably notch up her game as she will be facing fierce competition from seasoned Chinese, Thai, Japanese as well as Korean players. With an aim to not let her form slip, Nehwal has no other option but to march forward and brave the obstacles in the form of players like Mia Blichfeldt, Nitchon Zindapol, Pornpawee Chochuwong, Beiwen Zhang, Aya Ohori and Sung Ji Hyun.
With the BWF rankings highly subject to constant changes in hierarchy, Nehwal has to put her best foot forward in the coming crucial months. All eyes will be on Saina as she aspires to make a comeback and break into the top 16 to enter a stunning fourth Olympics in her well-decorated career.
Good chance for Saina Nehwal if she remains injury-free
The only thing that might possibly upset Saina Nehwal's road to Tokyo plans might be her recurring injuries. With only 4 tournaments remaining to go which will be considered Olympic qualifiers, Nehwal cannot afford to have an injury now.
Out of the 4 remaining events, the first is the India Open 2021 which should be a favorable outing for the ace shuttler. Having tasted title victories earlier here in 2010 and 2015, Saina should have every intention of bouncing back properly at the Super 500 event.
Next in line will be the closely spaced Spain Masters Super 300 and Malaysia Open Super 750 for Saina Nehwal, which will also be counted as Olympic qualifying tournaments. Finally, with the Singapore Open Super 500 in June, the window for Olympic qualifications will close. Saina, at all costs, must participate in all these tournaments and hope to record winning results.