Saina Nehwal facing toughest phase of her career: Vimal Kumar

Vimal Kumar has worked extensively with Saina Nehwal. The former national champion and Olympian was Saina's coach when she became world No. 1 in 2015.

By Utathya Nag ·

Former national badminton champion and coach U Vimal Kumar believes Saina Nehwal is currently going through the toughest phase of her career and faces a tough road ahead to arrest the slump.

Vimal Kumar was India's national badminton champion in 1988 and 1989. He has also represented India at the 1992 Barcelona Games. After hanging up his playing boots, Vimal Kumar served as India's national chief coach for several years. 

Currently the director of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, Kumar has worked extensively with 2012 London bronze medallist Saina Nehwal during her formative years.

He also coached Saina from 2014 to 2017 - a period which saw the Indian badminton ace become world No. 1 in women's singles.

“Saina is going through the toughest phase of her career. Things have not been going well for her for the past couple of years. She needs confidence to get going and the last she had a good result was in 2019 at the Indonesia Masters,” Vimal Kumar told the IANS

In fact, the Indonesia Masters in January 2019 was the last time Saina Nehwal managed to win a pro badminton tournament. 

She has failed to make a single final since then. The long COVID-enforced break in 2020 wasn't kind to the Indian badminton player either as she had a bout with the coronavirus.

Upon her return to competitive badminton at the two Thailand Opens this month, the Indian shuttler failed to impress. Saina Nehwal was knocked out in the second round at the Yonex Thailand Open and exited in the first round itself at the Toyota Thailand Open

“Losing more matches like this will affect her confidence. It is not only just physical, there are a lot of mental aspects at play as well. She is a strong girl, but these results can affect her," Kumar said. 

“It is not going to be easy for her to bounce back. She didn't look very fit to me. Maybe after the COVID issue and all she is still recovering from it,” he added. 

Due to the slump, Saina Nehwal, who is accustomed to being in the top 10 in BWF women's singles rankings, has slipped down to No. 20. 

In the Race to Tokyo Rankings - which determines qualification to the Tokyo Olympics in July-August - Saina is placed 15th while fellow Indian ace PV Sindhu is ranked seventh.

With the qualification window for Tokyo resuming with the Swiss Open from March 2, Saina will need to improve her form drastically to make the cut for Tokyo. 

“The next one or one-and-a-half months will determine her chances. The next five-six weeks will be key and give us an idea,” Vimal Kumar stated.