Saina Nehwal(REUTERS)
Saina Nehwal(REUTERS)

Campaign ends early for Indians in Thailand Open

Unable to sustain play at the elite level, some retired with injury while the others faded away in the face of world class competition, leaving a lot of catching up to do in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics.
PUBLISHED ON JAN 14, 2021 10:38 PM IST

The rust in their game due to a lack of competition for 10 months showed as no Indian player progressed beyond the second round at the $1 million Yonex Thailand Open badminton tournament on Thursday. Indian shuttlers had eagerly awaited the restart of the circuit but their hopes were dashed early in the Super 1000 event in Bangkok.

Unable to sustain play at the elite level, some retired with injury while the others faded away in the face of world class competition, leaving a lot of catching up to do in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics.

“There is no match practice. None of the Indians have been playing matches, and that is the biggest disadvantage. Abroad, they have all played domestic tournaments,” said national selector and former India head coach, U Vimal Kumar.

Post the lockdown phase while other countries started opening up in mid-2020, a full-fledged badminton camp never took off in India due to Covid-19 restrictions. Players in Europe were taking part in leagues and those in the Far East in domestic competitions.

“There are many leagues that take place simultaneously in Europe,” says India international Subhankar Dey, a regular in the Danish and Czech leagues.

“The Danish, Swiss, German and Czech leagues are quite popular. Danish is quite professional as all top players go there. Plus, there are divisions—first, second and so on—in the leagues system, like football. Many Asians also go there, including Indonesians and Malaysians.”

While most Indian players and pairs lost their openers, Saina Nehwal, K Srikanth and doubles pairs Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty and Rankireddy/Ashwini Ponnappa lost in the second round.

World No.14 Srikanth gave a walkover to Malaysian eighth-seed Lee Zii Jia due to a right calf muscle strain. “I am hoping to be fit by next week for the next round of the Thailand leg,” he tweeted.

Saina beat Malaysian Kisona Selvaduray in the opener on Wednesday but the world No.20 could not sustain her level despite a strong first game, losing 23-21, 14-21, 16-21 to local player Busanan Ongbamrungphan. The 68-minute win was her fourth in a row against Saina, giving the Thai a 4-3 lead in career meetings.

“She did really well, she was picking up my shuttles,” said Saina. “Since I had Covid-19, I didn’t have enough time to prepare, so whatever I could do in three weeks I tried my best. At this level you need to have the highest endurance to match it, but it was good compared to the last time I played.”

Saina and husband Parupalli Kashyap—who retired on Wednesday after pulling a calf muscle during his opener—were infected with Covid-19 in late November and had to isolate for three weeks, which halted their training. “Body wise I feel OK. I just need to have that continuous training to make myself fitter for back-to-back matches. I was moving well throughout the match. It’s just important to get my endurance levels going again for these tournaments,” the former world No.1 said.

“Nehwal is famous for her fitness, stamina and patience. The way she controlled the shuttle is second to none, but my strength is that I am faster,” said world No.12 Busanan.

“She tried to force me into a running game. I needed to use all my strength to play against her tough style.”

Doubles defeats

Though they had a promising start beating South Korea’s 2008 Beijing Olympics champion Lee Yong-dae and partner Kim Gi-jung, Rankireddy and Shetty found it tough against world champions Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, losing 13-21, 17-21 to the Indonesian second seeds in 34 minutes.

“I feel it was a match we could have won. We messed it up in the end. We were up 19-18 in the first game; the last time we played in Malaysia also we were 20-19 up. It’s a matter of a few points in the crucial moments and they being experienced took it away from us,” said Shetty. Rankireddy added: “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.”

Later, Rankireddy partnering Ashwini Ponnappa in mixed doubles lost 12-21, 17-21 to Hong Kong’s Chang Tak Ching and NG Wing Yung.

The Indian players will next feature in the $1 million Toyota Thailand Open starting on Tuesday.

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