The qualification cycle for the Tokyo Olympics will begin shortly, and unlike in women’s singles, there are several contenders for the two possible slots when it comes to men’s singles. National coach Pullela Gopichand is wary of a scenario where the players have to push themselves to the limit in the months leading up to the cut-off point, thereby risking the possibility of injuries.
Judging by the performances at the India Open, Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma and HS Prannoy could realistically get on the plane to Tokyo.
“I hope we we get some good performances as early as possible to get those slots so there’s no mad rush towards the end leading to a burnout or an injury towards the Olympics,” Gopi said on the sidelines of the tournament on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, there is no regulation system in place, what I’ve been calling for for a decade, where we can rein the players in a little bit. But players have got more sensible and they’re planning with a lot more maturity than in the past.”
As far as medal prospects at the Games are concerned, the head coach is ruling nothing out. “It’s still a year away. The men’s women’s and mixed all have chances. Also, competition at the Olympics is not as tough as at the Superseries level.”
Three singles players making it to the semifinals gladdened Gopi’s heart, but he still had some regrets.
“I think Sindhu’s match yesterday could’ve been won. Few of the Indians lost to each other so I would’ve liked them to play other opponents. The women’s doubles and men’s doubles did well, though they had a chance to go further. (N) Sikki (Reddy) and Ashwini (Ponnappa) led 11-4 in the second game in their match against the top seeds. They had a chance to at least take that match into the third game. Prannoy, good tournament,” he reflected.
“Kashyap had had a good run. Considering what has happened in the last year with him, it has been a good comeback. I’m very happy with the way Kidambi has progressed technically, though he still has trouble beating certain opponents in big matches. He is on the right track but there is still lot of scope for improvement. His fitness level is good, but the likes of (Kento) Momota and (Viktor) Axelsen are even better with regard to strength and endurance.”
The heavy BWF tournament schedule doesn’t allow any player much time to think, and it’s a mixed blessing. They don’t have time to mope after a disappointing loss, but also can’t work on specific areas of their game that may need improvement.
“It’s better to just move on quickly – forget the defeats and focus on the next tournament. Everybody in the world has been complaining about the heavy schedule, but there’s not much we can do about it. We just have to find a way around it,” Gopi said.