CHENNAI: Even as India's elite sportspersons in other disciplines have got back to the field amid the pandemic, its badminton stars were left frustrated. The tour started, had one tournament and promptly shut down again. The national camp in Hyderabad too had initial hiccups. It's been a period of waiting. That will end in the first week of January as an eight-member team, led by PV Sindhu, will leave for Thailand to take part in the first of two Thailand Opens from January 12.
"We will leave India on January 3," said doubles specialist N Sikki Reddy. "Looking forward to it as we have gone a long time without playing a competition."
As always, she will team up with Ashwini Ponappa. Even if they are India's leading women's doubles team, their results haven't always been on the right side. She is hoping that 2021 will see a change in fortune. "Ashwini has been in Hyderabad for the last month, after a long time we have practised together. We need to begin 2021 in a positive frame of mind."
It's likely that the team will be allowed to train even during quarantine before playing their first tournament. The next tournament - beginning on January 19 - is likely to be with fans.
Another player excited to just get back on court is Chirag Shetty, one half of the men's doubles team. "It's almost been a year with no events, so I'm really looking forward to it," he said.
Chirag, who recently returned to Hyderabad after spending almost the entirety of lockdown in Mumbai, doesn't foresee any problems training with his partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy after such a long time. "I mean, we have been used to each other for a long time, we have played many matches together, so that really shouldn't bother us."
One thing that he says could be challenging is returning to the arena and playing a match. "That I think could be challenging, just getting back to the arena. That first match..."
Sindhu to travel directly
Sindhu, who is training in the UK, will leave for Thailand directly from the UK. The Olympic silver medallist, who had left for an initial eight-week stint to work on specifics like diet and nutrition at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Leicester, had intended to come back to India in December. However, she will now head to Bangkok directly. Anyway, it wouldn't have been possible for her to return to India before the New Year as the government has banned incoming flights from the UK because of the new strain of the coronavirus found there.
India Open last Olympic event
The BWF's updated 2021 calendar released on Monday has slotted the India Open, a World Tour 500 event, from May 11-16 at New Delhi. It's the last event to have Olympic qualification points. The first event back to have ranking points towards Tokyo is Swiss Open, a 300 event, from March 2-7. In all, there are going to be 17 events that will have ranking points. Interestingly, the All England Championships, a World Tour 1000 meet, will not have any ranking points this time out.
Men: B Sai Praneeth, Kidambi Srikanth, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty
Women: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Ashwini Ponappa, N Sikki Reddy