CHENNAI: Over the next three-and-a-half months, the cream of Indian badminton will crisscross continents in the hope of winning vital ranking points which will go a long way in securing an Olympics berth. Unlike a few of the recent editions, the elite are walking a bit of a tightrope and need to up their game if they are to punch that Tokyo ticket. As it stands, only three — PV Sindhu, B Sai Praneeth and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty — are set to make the cut but even they are yet to completely firm up their qualification credentials. For the rest, it's a case of putting a string of performances between now and the first week of June.
Can they? Chief coach Pullela Gopichand says training, these last few weeks, has been good and the contingent is shaping up well prior to departing for the Swiss Open, slated to begin March 2. "I am happy with the way the team has been shaping up," said Gopi. "Sindhu and Park (she is training with Park Tae Sang) have been training well. The doubles team is being taken care of by (Mathias) Boe. He is very supportive. We have Agus Dwi Santoso taking care of the singles players. So I am satisfied with their progress." He also clarified that the Gachibowli Stadium is open for practice. "We have taken permission for practising in Gachibowli and we will exercise it when we need it for practice sessions."
Sikki, one among many Indians competing at the Swiss Open, agreed with Gopichand. "Since Boe has come in we are doing a lot of drills we weren't doing previously," she said. "He is helping us a lot." All the inputs from the 2012 Olympic silver-medallist need to pay off for Sikki. Because, at the moment, she is out of contention in both the women's doubles (with Ashwini Ponnappa) as well as in the mixed doubles (with Pranaav Jerry Chopra).
However, one aspect that's not helped a few of the players is the uncertainty with respect to travelling and which tournaments will go ahead or not. "That has definitely not helped," she said. "Earlier you knew what tournaments were coming up and you could plan accordingly. It's very tough to do that now because of the uncertainty."
But Gopichand feels the further addition and subtraction to the calendar will help the players ultimately because now the events are more spaced out. "We will have to wait and see if there are any further changes to the schedule. But to have tournaments more spaced out for a team would be better of."
Another aspect that will come into the equation is players will have to pick events. For example, while B Sai Praneeth will most likely come back after All England, the likes of HS Prannoy will be on their way to Orleans (Paris, March 23-28), a Super 100 event. And the challenge for Prannoy, currently No 30 in the race to Tokyo, is bigger. Since he is out of Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), he has to fund his way.
"Last time I had some support from Go Sports, this time I haven't asked yet. It's always a challenge. Sometimes, when you do three events back to back, you end up spending lakhs. But you keep doing that because of the points on offer. It (the situation with rankings) can change."
A few of them will be hoping for this.