The clock is ticking fast for shuttlers looking to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Two months are now remaining until the window for qualification is finally shut.
As per the BWF Council, June 15 will mark the last date of the Olympic qualifying period, before the Games begin the following month, from June 23. The pressure is naturally peaking on shuttlers who are yet to make the top-16 cut in the Race to Tokyo rankings.
For India, 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist PV Sindhu and 2019 World Championships bronze medalist B Sai Praneeth are most likely to head to Tokyo. The World No. 10 doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty are also on their way to the Olympics.
But for former World No. 1's Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, there are still a few daunting obstacles ahead, as they are yet to fully cement their presence at this Olympics.
Given how the entire BWF calendar has been subject to a torrent of changes owing to the global pandemic, the tournaments being considered as Olympic qualifiers have also recently been updated.
With only 4 tournaments currently remaining to be played that will award precious points for Olympic qualification, the shuttlers are really hard-pressed for time.
How have the Indian shuttlers fared at the recent Olympic qualifiers?
The Swiss Open 2021, which was held in March, marked the resumption of the Olympic qualifiers. Notably, World No. 7 PV Sindhu set up a mouth-watering clash against familiar foe Carolina Marin in the Basel finals, before finishing as a runner-up at the BWF Super 300 event.
Kidambi Srikanth made it to the semi-finals of the tournament as well, before losing to eventual champion Viktor Axelsen. Meanwhile, B. Sai Praneeth and Ajay Jayaram also performed well, finishing as quarter-finalists.
In the other Olympic qualifier event, the Orleans Masters 2021, Saina Nehwal was the star attraction of the tournament as the Olympic bronze medalist battled into the semi-finals.
However, Nehwal, who is trying to script a comeback on the tour, had her winning streak cut short when she lost to the young Line Christophersen. Kidambi Srikanth also put up a good showing before exiting in the quarter-finals.
Here are the remaining Olympic qualifying events on the tour:
# India Open BWF Super 500 [ 11-16th May ]
Come May, the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi will play host to top-ranked shuttlers from all over the world who will compete in the Super 500 India Open. With April not having too many tournaments, the India Open is the next major event in line which will also be counted as an Olympic qualifier.
For 2-time India Open champion Saina Nehwal and 2015 India Open winner, Kidambi Srikanth in particular, the tournament will play a crucial role in determining their presence in Tokyo.
While Srikanth hogs the No. 14 spot in the Race to Tokyo rankings, Nehwal is still far behind at No. 22 and has some serious catching up to do.
Undoubtely, the India Open will be a favorite hunting ground for most Indian shuttlers, being a home event after all. But the competition will also be extremely fierce.
With the Olympics at stake, it is only expected that the pressure will surge at the USD 400,000 tournament as well.
# Spain Masters BWF Super 300 [ 18-23rd May ]
Following right on the heels of the India Open, the Spain Masters will take place at Huelva. Also being considered an Olympic qualifying tournament, it will naturally attract players keen to gather points to make it to Tokyo.
In the 2020 edition of the tournament, Ajay Jayaram made it to the semi-final stages of the Super 300 tournament while Saina Nehwal and Sameer Verma went as far as the quarters.
It remains to be seen how the Indian shuttlers will fare this time around, with the Olympics looming near.
# Malaysia Open BWF Super 750 [ 25-30th May ]
The next important event on the BWF calendar is the Malaysia Open which will take place at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur. A Super 750 event, the Malaysia Open will play yet another crucial role as it will also be considered an Olympic qualifier.
The Malaysia Open was not played in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be resuming itself in 2021. Reigning World No. 1 Tai-Tzu Ying has picked up a hat-trick of victories at this Super 750 event and will be looking to continue her title defense.
With the month of May already being chock-a-block with such important qualifying tournaments, all shuttlers have to be absolutely ready to give it their all at this penultimate Olympic qualifying event.
# Singapore Open BWF Super 500 [ 1-6th June ]
Being the final tournament on this list of Olympic qualifiers, the Singapore Open Super 500 event will definitely be the most important one. A mad scramble for points is expected at this USD 320,00 event, with shuttlers vying to enter the top-16 in a last-minute effort.
Saina Nehwal, who was a winner in 2015 over here, will be heading to Singapore with high hopes of making it to a third consecutive Olympics. Meanwhile, eyes will also be on 2017 Singapore Open champion B Sai Praneeth, who is being touted as a medal hopeful for India at the upcoming quadrennial Games.
As the final tournament before the Olympic window for qualification closes, the competition will undoubtedly be extremely intense. Players like Nehwal, Srikanth and Praneeth cannot afford to let any of these opportunities slip, as it will cost them heavily at this point.