Indian shuttlers have been dealing with a series of injuries this year, affecting their plans and preparations for the qualifying cycle of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
With a medal each in the last two Olympics — Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu clinching the bronze and silver at the London and Rio Games in 2012 and 2016 respectively — expectations will be high once from the badminton contingent in Tokyo.
The Olympic qualification period is between April 29, 2019 and April 26, 2020 with the ranking list published on April 30 to be used to decide the spots.
Each nation can enter a maximum of two players in the men’s and women’s singles if both are ranked in the world’s top 16 and the Indian shuttlers will have to come up with consistent performances to make the cut.
However, injuries have affected the plans of top shuttlers such as Saina and Sameer Verma, both of whom have skipped the ongoing Indonesia Open BWF World Tour Super 1000.
While Saina remains the only Indian to win a title this season, none of the other shuttlers have been able to win titles on the BWF World Tour, with B Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth coming close when they reached the finals at Swiss Open and India Open respectively.
Saina, who was looking good at the start of the season, was diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis with mild pancreatitis which affected her performance at the All England Championship.
She recovered to play a few tournaments in April but injuries came back to haunt her as she struggled with fitness in the run-up to the Indonesia Open, a tournament she has won thrice in the past.
The 29-year-old from Hyderabad had issues with her shin, ankle, hip and wrist, which robbed her of enough practice time in an important year.
“Saina has been struggling with a bit of injuries but she might play Japan. She is a great athlete and a fighter. She is someone who always gives her 100 percent,” Gopichand told PTI.
Sameer, who had made it to the semi-final at World Tour Finals last December and won three titles in 2018, has also been laid low by a shoulder niggle. He missed the Indonesia Open and is likely to play at Japan.
Kidambi Srikanth suffered a knee injury just three days before the Sudirman Cup and missed the prestigious tournament. On his comeback, he lost in the second round in Jakarta this week.
HS Prannoy, who achieved a career-best ranking of world no 8 last year, was hit by a gut problem which took a lot of time to diagnose and forced him to skip tournaments. The Indian, currently ranked 31st, is now trying to gather ranking points to find his way back in the top 10 and seal a place in the Olympics.
“The focus right now is on Olympic qualification. The busy schedule and a few injuries to key players have taken a toll. But I am hopeful in the next three weeks, we will get some good results,” Gopichand said.
“Now players are focussed on ranking to qualify for the Olympics and I will be travelling with the team next year to prepare the training plan for the Games,” he added.
Sindhu, Saina, Srikanth and Sameer are still within top 16 and are in the race to qualify for the Olympics.