Several underdogs outperformed the big players at the tournament.

The Thailand Open concluded Sunday but the Indian contingent’s run had culminated much before. The domestic shuttlers delivered underwhelmingly on their return to competitive badminton after the COVID-19 imposed break. None of the singles’ players or the doubles’ pairs managed to progress beyond the second round.

These results have certainly created some panic in the circuit, given the Olympic Games are set to be held later this year. Badminton is one of India’s best shots to bag a medal in the quadrennial competition. The ball gathers more moss with the fact that Saina Nehwal (2012) and PV Sindhu (2016) attained podium finishes in the recent editions of the mega-event.

Hence, the country pins a lot of hope and aspirations on its shuttlers. However, it is essential to not succumb into panic-mode and rather breakdown the events that occurred in the Thailand Open that possibly led to the eventual result.

Confusion over the COVID tests

Top shuttlers Saina Nehwal and HS Pronnay were said to have tested positive following their third round of tests. They were accordingly forced to pull out from the tournament straightaway. Subsequently, Nehwal’s husband and fellow player Parupalli Kashyap was compelled to withdraw too, due to his proximity to her.

The Olympic medalist immediately protested against the decision. She took to Twitter and claimed, “I still didn’t receive the COVID test report from yesterday, it’s very confusing and today just before the warm-up for the match, they tell me to go to the hospital in Bangkok … saying that I’m positive ..according to rules the report should come in 5 hours..”

The Badminton Association of India (BAI) swiftly took up the matter with the Badminton World Federation (BWF). Saina and Pronnoy were cleared to participate in the event after their fourth round of tests resulted negative. Their matches were rescheduled but uncertainties such as these kept them on the edge amidst the commencement of the tournament.

This is certainly not the kind of preparation that any sportsperson will desire going ahead before a crucial competition/match. These logistical issues might have hampered players’ approach and kept them anxious right until their ouster was invalidated.

Thailand Open, badminton, saina
Saina Nehwal lost in the second round.

Lack of match-practice

Diving into such competitive tournaments straight after almost a year-long break is never easy. It reflected in the performances of the Indian players. The contingent suffered a major shock by PV Sindhu’s first-round exit on the opening day to Mia Blichfeldt. Similarly, B Sai Praneeth was defeated in straight games by Kantaphon Wangcharoen on the same day.

Sindhu admitted committing some unforced errors as the game progressed. On the other hand, Sai Praneeth failed to catch up with the pace of the game. He never gathered any momentum and Wangcharoen finished off the game in less than half-an-hour.

Men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankareddy and Chirag Shetty instilled some hope by making their way to the Round 2. However, even they were handed a defeat by second-seeded Indonesians Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan. The young Indian duo accepted that lack of competitive matches had played a part in the eventual outcome.

“They were waiting for our mistakes. It’s been many months (since competition), I feel we could’ve played better at 19-all or 19-18, it will take time. We need to calm down at that stage,” Satwik was quoted on the BWF website. These shuttlers were playing for the first time since March 2020 and such a long time away from the sport is bound to have some consequences. These are all quality players and can be trusted to roar back into form once they get into the groove of things.

Sai Praneeth is India’s top ranked shuttler.

Fitness concerns

Lack of competitions in the last one year naturally affected the players’ forms on the court. However, it had a major influence on their match-fitness and that directly impacted the Indian contingent’s performances. Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap had to pull off from their respective matches due to injury issues.

Srikanth had sailed to the second round through a win against fellow countryman Saurabh Verma in the opening round. However, he conceded the contest against eighth-seeded Lee Zii Jia after pulling a calf muscle. Kashyap faced the 50th ranked Jason Anthony Ho-Shue in his first match upon return and was forced to retire due to a leg muscle injury during the match.

The Indian shuttlers definitely need to be in the thick of the action for the next few months if the qualified ones are aspiring to be serious contenders for a coveted medal in Tokyo.

Lack of pre-Covid form

Many Indian badminton players had a disappointing 2019 on the court. Srikanth, ranked number 1 in April 2018, has dropped down to the 14th spot in the BWF rankings as of now. Sai Praneeth is the highest-ranked Indian in men’s singles (13), but his sole outing in the Thailand Open didn’t inspire much confidence either.

PV Sindhu is placed seventh in the women’s singles chart currently, and she was also the only seeded Indian player in the competition. Regaining the required touch will take a significant amount of match-practice for most of the players.

As of now, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty seem to be the only professionals in form for the coming competitions. They have emerged as one of India’s leading hopes for an Olympic medal. The Thailand Open was certainly not ideal for the Indian shuttlers. However, there were several disruptive factors that contributed to these dismal results. Regular competitions in the coming few months will probably provide them enough in-game practice to positively gear up for the season ahead.

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