With an eye on the Olympics qualification window in March next year, Indian national badminton team chief coach Pullela Gopichand is looking forward to the January tournaments in Thailand to gauge where his players stand after the long COVID-19 break.
Barring the Denmark Open and SaarLorLux Open in October, the global badminton calendar has largely been on hold since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
The Asian leg of the BWF World Tour is expected to restore the regular season after the hiatus.
The Yonex Thailand Open from January 12 to 17, the Toyota Thailand Open from January 19 to 24 and the BWF World Tour Finals from January 27 to 31 in Bangkok will flag things off.
“Tournaments in January will tell us where exactly we stand. We will take necessary actions after that,” Gopichand told The Week.
“It is going to be a challenging year. We start off with two tournaments in the first two weeks of January. The players are experienced, and we should be on schedule regarding our preparations for the Olympics,” he added.
During the course of the COVID-enforced break, Pullela Gopichand has had the opportunity to work with some of the players in a start-stop national camp at his academy in Hyderabad, but the former All England champion feels the true test of form can only be determined in a competitive setup.
Gopichand, however, was happy with what he had observed from his players after the long layoff.
“They came back well. The present lot of players, the seniors particularly, got their muscle memory to come back quickly. There is no rustiness. If there is, it is on the physical front. If you have about a month of training, they are back physically as well.
“For me, the challenge is more with the younger players who have lost a year-and-a-half in momentum compared with the seniors,” he stated.
The past few months have been testing for Indian badminton with several top players like Parupalli Kashyap, Saina Nehwal, Lakshya Sen, HS Prannoy and Satwik Rankireddy contracting the coronavirus.
“Satwik came through after a prolonged spell of COVID-19 infection. He has put on a little bit of weight, so we are focusing on physical strength since he came back. He has actually done a good job, so hopefully he should be in perfect shape before the tournaments.
“Saina, Kashyap and Prannoy have been a little tired in the last few days, but they have been asymptomatic for the most part of it. Their lungs have not really been affected. That is the feedback. I think they will come back soon,” Pullela Gopichand informed, providing a status update on the players.