Why Denmark is important not just for Saina but also for the game itself
Since 2020 is no longer an Olympic year, it makes sense for those in contention for a berth at Tokyo's badminton competition to head to the Denmark Open scheduled to be played in Odense from October 13 to 18.
Besides being the first event since international badminton was suspended due to the global Covid19 pandemic, it is also a test of how the game would emerge in the empty arenas which are mandatory at the moment.
Badminton World Federation may have bowed to popular sentiment to defer the Thomas and Uber Cup team competition to next year but gave the go-ahead to the Denmark Open possibly to test the waters.
After all Europe has seen several sports, including football, Formula One and cricket, resume activity in a strictly controlled environment and so far there has not been any major mishap bar the Adria Tour exhibition tennis.
Given the fear as well restrictions on international travel, the Denmark Open may hardly see any big names from Asia since most countries had already pulled out of the TUC. So it could offer easy picking for someone like London bronze medalist Saina Nehwal who needs to move up four places to grab a second qualifying spot for India behind reigning world champion PV Sindhu.
Saina is ranked 20 while Sindhu is placed seventh in BWF ranking frozen since end-March, 2020, right after the All-England Championship.
Sindhu, quite on expected lines, has decided to give Denmark a miss and instead focus on the home front which had even put her playing in the Uber Cup in doubt. Since there is no national duty involved, its the world champion's prerogative to pick and choose her return to the international circuit.
The complex Olympic qualifying norm for singles allows two players from a country only if both are ranked in the top 16. The singles draw of 38-plus accounts for quotas for continents which were unable to make the grade through the rankings. Obviously, Asia has no such luxuries since more than half of the 38 would be from the largest continent anyway.
That leaves those not in the top 16 to fight for survival indeed.
Much like Saina, her husband Parupalli Kashyap too seeks an Olympic berth though his current 24 rank virtually rules him out as Sai Praneeth (13) and Kidambi Srikanth (14) are way ahead. Of course, both men's singles exponents must protect their ranking points till April 29, 2021, when the Tokyo-bound participants will be finalised.
With that in mind, perhaps, both Kashyap and Srikanth are headed to Odense as is Lakshya Sen, ranked 27.
Doubles is a far tougher field with BWF allowing only a draw of 16 for Olympics.
While the Indian men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are ranked 10 and all but sure to make the cut, the other pair of Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy stands little chance since for two entries from any single country both pairs must be ranked in the top eight.
Similarly, there is little doubt that the women's and mixed doubles hardly stand any chance of presenting an Indian challenge in Tokyo, given that the best ranking for the country presently stands at 28 and 27 respectively.
Pulling up into the top 16 would be a Herculean task in itself and hence no Indian doubles pair has opted to play in Denmark.
Without doubt Denmark Open will be a test case in more ways than one. Apart from low Asian turnout, the event will also be closely monitored to evaluate whether the game flourishes or wilts in cavernous indoor arenas.
Besides the players, the game of badminton itself has plenty at stake in Odense!
Ravi Kant Singh is a sports writer, analyst and broadcaster since 1984, having covered a wide spectrum of sports—Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup, ICC Champions Trophy, to name a few.
While working for ESPN Star Sports, he was a regular commentator for NBA, tennis, golf and many a major soccer leagues of Europe and South America. He has also pushed the cart of new home-grown leagues in India: Pro Kabaddi and Hockey India league, being involved with both since launch.
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