For Indian badminton fans used to the medal rush and podium finishes, the two badminton tournaments in Thailand may have been a little underwhelming. But former Indian star Aparna Popat believes that the fact that Indian players are back on the court, after a break of almost 10 months, and fighting is a good start.
The standout performances for India came in doubles at the Toyota Thailand Open, the second of the two tournaments in the South East Asian country. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy was at the centre of it, making it to the semi-finals of the men’s doubles with Chirag Shetty and mixed doubles with Ashwini Ponnappa.
“I wouldn’t read into the performances per se of the Indians, because there was so much going on in the background,” Popat told the Olympic Channel.
“The biggest positive is that the players came out and played. With this kind of preparation to come out and perform, especially the doubles players, it’s just outstanding.”
Barring Kidamdi Srikanth, who played in the Denmark Open in October, all the Indian players who competed at the Thailand Open were taking court for the first time since March 2020. India has the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases and most of the country was in lockdown for almost six months.
While players from countries like Denmark and Thailand, where the pandemic was less severe, some had avenues to resume training and practice, which the Indian athletes didn’t.
“With such a long break, to actually get your mind to focus when it has to and have it work is difficult,” says Popat, a former Commonwealth Games silver medalist.
“When you are playing, when you are in that rhythm and when you are training, things are much easier in a way, because you know what to expect. You remember, over the years you’ve done it. When you come back after a long break like this, suddenly you find that you start getting tired, or you are missing your rhythm physically when you are moving around. Problems with flexibility, it could be anything. It’s very different for each player. And add to that the stress of the virus.”
Despite the long absence on court, the Indian players looked much sharper in the second tournament in Thailand. Reigning world champion PV Sindhu, who had lost in the opening round at the Yonex Thailand Open, made it to the quarterfinals the following week. Sameer Verma also made it to the last eight in men’s singles.
Just being able to step back out into competition will provide incredible impetus, feels Popat.
“When you are training you need an aim. Now that they know tournaments have started, and of course with the Indian Open scheduled (in May), there will be something to aspire to. There’s something to look forward to, that makes a lot of difference when you are training and pushing, especially when you haven’t done it for so many months.”
Next on the agenda is the World Tour Finals, as Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth have made the cut for the premier event, which will be held in Bangkok from January 27.