It’s been a desperate struggle to get his Olympic qualification on track since February, but the painful realisation has hit Parupalli Kashyap that the Rio dream is all but over. When he wobbled off the court at the German Open, it had seemed like a straight case of a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury. But by the end of the India Open in Delhi — where incidentally he had sealed his Olympics berth four years ago in dramatic fashion, pipping Ajay Jayram in April 2012 — India’s leading shuttler who made the quarterfinals at London, knew that the knee wasn’t going to heal in time to get his ranking up from the current World No. 17.
“The Olympics was everything I worked for, for the last two years since the Commonwealth Games,” a despondent Kashyap said on Tuesday, even as his peers had assembled in Malaysia to rack up points in the last stretch of qualification with four events in as many weeks before the cut off. “I wanted to be in the top 8 by last year’s end which I was on course and then improve a little more for a better draw at the Olympics. So what happened is very disappointing and unexpected,” he added.
A top 16 place by May 4 would’ve ensured a second outing at the Olympics for the CWG champ. However, the painful knee had sustained multi-pronged damage, opening up a dilemma over surgery or not for the 29-year-old. It’s been a nightmarish run for Kashyap who after missing out on the end-season last year through injury, had been racing against time to get into shape for the last stretch of qualification. Pain accompanied him throughout — when he asked to be excused from the South Asian Games to recover in time and even when he returned to the court, only for the knee to snap again.
While the MCL is recovering well, it’ll still be another 3 weeks before it can be said to have healed. Meanwhile there was also a chipping of a bone inside the knee and a loose body floating as a result, which might require surgery putting him out for 6 weeks. There’s further complication if he has to completely put at ease the painful cartilage and stitch up the lateral meniscus damage — a recovery that could take four months.
However, Kashyap and his support team are still awaiting the doctor’s final opinion before deciding on the surgery — which the Hyderabad shuttler would ideally like to avoid. A long lay-off could see him drop further in rankings and cost him sponsors, however at 29 he will need to take a prudent call on returning only with a strengthened knee to prolong his career, if he has to fulfill his dream of medalling at the All England and World Championships as well as defend his Commonwealth Games crown in 2018. “Can’t do much now. There are a lot of events to look forward to so I just want to get back on court pain free,” he said.
Fight on for 2nd men’s spot
In his absence, the focus now shifts to HS Prannoy and Ajay Jayram, to aim for the second spot. The four-tournament flurry starting with the Malaysian Open this week and followed by Singapore Super Series, China GP Gold and Asian Badminton Championships — will be crucial for the two shuttlers.
While Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, ranked No. 6 and No. 11 respectively, should ensure their top 16 grade by the cut-off date of May 1, it is the men’s singles players who need to make a desperate lunge to ensure two Indians head to the Games in Brazil. Rankings that will be released on May 5 will be used to allocate quotas.
HS Prannoy (ranked 19th) needs to raise his game in the coming weeks and pitch himself into contention. Prannoy starts the race to collect points with a steep challenge against India Open winner and Japanese whiz Kento Momota in the first round at Malaysia. Ajay Jayaram (ranked 24), who also lost in the opening round, has a slim chance of making the cut if he can leapfrog Prannoy, but he will have to do exceedingly well in the coming weeks — starting with a first round against Hong Kong’s Hu Yun at the Malawati Stadium in Shah Alam.
Chief national coach Pullela Gopichand was non-committal and guarded on the prospects of the men’s players’ qualification. “A lot depends on how they play in the next few tournaments. Few slots are still open so we’ll have to see how things go,” he said. “I don’t want to go into details because one good performance could really change things. Prannoy jumped seven spots with just one good show so you can’t rule out anyone. They should stick to planning to play as well as they can. I try to keep players calmer, trying to prepare them for big matches.”