Tokyo Olympics 2021: Tough road to qualification for Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth after India Open postponement 

Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal
Sohinee Basu

With the Tokyo Olympics qualifying event, India Open 2021 being indefinitely postponed, the tension in the badminton camp has reached an all-time high in the lead up to the quadrennial extravaganza.

In the wake of a surge in COVID-19 cases again, tournaments are being scrapped and postponed and the latest to join the league is the India Open 2021, which was scheduled to be held from May 11-16 in New Delhi.

Nehwal, Srikanth in a battle against time to enter Tokyo Olympics 2021

Consequently, with the home tournament being ruled out, worry lines have surfaced again for shuttlers like Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, who are still eyeing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

So far, only Rio silver medalist PV Sindhu, 2019 World Championships bronze medalist Sai Praneeth and dynamic doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty have mostly secured their Tokyo Olympics berths.

With time no longer being an affordable luxury for any of the shuttlers well outside the Top 16 on the BWF rankings, the road ahead is going to be a difficult one. Barely two months remain before the window for the Tokyo Olympics qualification is fast-shut on June 15 and only two tournaments - Malaysia Open Super 750 (May 25-30) and Singapore Open Super 500 (June 1-6) remain to be played, which will act as Tokyo Olympic qualifiers.

Can Saina Nehwal make it to the Tokyo Olympics?

Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal

Struggling with form over the last couple of years, Olympic bronze medalist Saina Nehwal is hard-pressed for time as she is vying for a Tokyo berth and a fourth consecutive Olympic appearance. The former World No. 1 player who became the first Olympic medalist for India in badminton, has a tough path ahead, with only 2 tournaments remaining.

With lack-lustre performances mostly to her credit over the past year owing to injury disruptions, Saina Nehwal clawed back into her first semi-final in two years at the Orleans Masters 2021. However, the Commonwealth Games gold medalist Nehwal could not proceed further and her chances were squashed by Line Christophersen in a matter of 28 minutes where Nehwal lost, 17-21, 17-21.

On the Race to Tokyo rankings chart, Saina Nehwal has slipped quite a bit and is cradling the No. 22 spot. Things are not looking very favorable for the Haryana-born shuttler. With the last date for Tokyo Olympics qualification fast approaching, Saina Nehwal simply has to put her best foot forward in the remaining qualifiers - Malaysia Open and Singapore Open. Without any option but to dig deep, Nehwal has to push herself to the next gear to grab precious points and hoist herself up the rankings chart.

Kidambi Srikanth in a tricky spot ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Kidambi Srikanth
Kidambi Srikanth

For Kidambi Srikanth as well, time isn't the best ally as the 28-year-old shuttler has quite the task cut out for him ahead if he intends to make it to the Tokyo Olympics. In the resumed BWF 2021 calendar, Srikanth has packed in a string of decent performances - his pinnacle moment arriving at the Swiss Open 2021, where he finished as a semi-finalist.

The 2016 Rio Olympics quarter-finalist, who is vying to earn a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics, produced a blink-and-you-miss performance at the All England Open and could only make it to the quarters at Orleans. With a lot of making up to do on his part, the World No. 14, Kidambi Srikanth is currently placed at the No. 20 spot on the race to Tokyo rankings.

With India Open 2021 being postponed, the 2015 champion and 2019 runner-up at the BWF Super 500 tournament, Kidambi Srikanth has no option but to focus ahead. Srikanth must do everything in his power to produce his best level of badminton as he competes in the last few Olympic qualifiers at Malaysia and finally, Singapore.

The India Open getting postponed is not good news for either of the former World No. 1's as both have tasted plenty of success here, being erstwhile champions at this BWF Super 500 tournament. However, all focus should be on the remaining two Tokyo Olympic qualifiers - the Malaysia Open and Singapore Open and the duo must be at their very best and aim for last four finishes at least, to better their chances for qualification.

Edited by Prem Deshpande
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