Tokyo Olympics: PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, and Chirag and Satwiksairaj have and outside chance for podium finish, says Uday Pawar

Tokyo Olympics – PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth: Four-time senior national men’s doubles winner Uday Pawar believes India’s top drawer men”s singles player Kidambi Srikanth, women’s champion P.V. Sindhu and the top men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have an “outside chance” of finishing on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 rescheduled for July-August 2021.
Pawar doesn’t miss action in the world of  badminton and took notice of the happenings at the three events held in Bangkok in January as the badminton fraternity took steps to return to the heady cocktail of fast paced action on the courts.
Here is what he says about the country’s pride, their preparation and chances..
Q. The three  events in Bangkok — Yonex Thailand Open, Toyota Thailand Open and the World Tour Finals — have not turned out to be good news for India. But considering the pandemic, would you say that Indian fans can hope for better results from Srikanth, Sindhu and Satwiksairaj/ Chirag in Tokyo?
A. These three were not full-strength tournaments. Japan and China withdrew from all the three. Both the countries have roughly two combinations in the top 10, which means 40 per cent of the cream was not there in Bangkok. So, the competition was not at its highest. If you really see the performances of the Indians, by their ranking and on merit, all three are medal prospects at the summer Olympics.
Sindhu is not in form, but there is still time. She has been in the top four before, but she has to train hard. Srikanth is a dark horse; he lost all three matches in the World Tour Finals in three games, and against the World Nos. 3, 8 and 9, and at 19 and 18 in the third match. He did not win a match, but he is in good form.
Q. Sindhu trained in England and was supposed to provide better and consistent results on resumption of competitions.
A. Yes. She sacrificed a lot from a young age and lived a regimental life. Probably she is going through a phase in life wherein she wants to explore the world and see what’s suited for her now. That’s why she went to England. She will probably analyse that decision and conclude that it was not the right choice.
If one sees her performances against players whom she had beaten comfortably, it has not been good. She lost to them. And in scores that are not competitive.
Q. It’s a fact that Srikanth played well, but went down in all three singles matches in three games of the World Tour Finals. He is ranked World No.13 and has to do well in the All England, Malaysia Masters and Singapore Masters in April. 
A. His ranking dropped because he was not consistent in 2019. He was in bad form before the Covid-19 pandemic. He was recovering from several injuries and his form dipped. He also played a few low-level tournaments and after injury, he was not upto the mark on the fitness count; specifically speed-wise, he was not as quick as the world had progressed.
In international badminton, there is a massive change in the level of play every three months. One is on the fitness count, the other is speed and the third is the duration of the match. The singles matches are played consistently over one hour, fifteen minutes that indicate that the quality of the games are very high. If you see the pace at which the rallies are played, it’s phenomenal.
If rallies are played at an optimum speed of 60km an hour, to play each match at that speed and over a time frame of one-and-a-half hours with very little break in between shows that the fitness levels have improved tremendously. One has to be a super human to consistently perform at that level because speed and long duration of matches cause greater wear and tear of the body. One may win one tournament, but the body may not recover for the next because one may carry niggles from the course of winning the previous tournament.
Q. What should be Srikanth’s approach for Tokyo?
A. He can take confidence from the World Tour Finals matches in Thailand. I feel that he is the No. 1 player from India who can qualify for Tokyo. And should he qualify, he has an outside chance for a medal.
Olympics is not a tournament where the field is the toughest because, of the top 32, only the top 16 or 18 make it to the draw. This is because representation is given to countries. Suppose China has four good players in the top, only two will be allowed to play at the Olympics. The qualification rules eliminate some good players. If you get a favourable draw, you need to win three matches to be in medal contention.
There are only two men players who are a cut above the rest. They are Japan’s Kento Momota and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen. There is a gap between them and the rest of the world.
But if you position Srikkanth’s performance against players like Denmark’s Anders Antonsen, Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long Angus and Taipei”s Wang Tzu Wei, he is running them very close. This means he has pace or he has caught up with them because he was recovering from injuries in 2019. I think he has worked on his fitness during the pandemic. Most of these players are on their own now at the national camp. Both Sindhu and Srikanth are in need of a top level coach to prepare them well and also during competitions.
Q. What about Satwiksairaj and Chirag in the men’s doubles?
A. Probably they have beaten seven combinations in the top 10, but not the two Japanese combinations in Takeshi Kamura/ Keigo Sonoda and Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe, and an Indonesian pair in the veteran combination of Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan. Their priority should be to get into the top eight in world rankings so that they can avoid playing the top teams before the quarterfinals, thereby improving their chances of going deeper into the tournaments.
The fact that both Satwiksairaj and Chirag are young and have a specialist doubles coach in Dane Mathias Boe (Olympic silver medalist, All England winner and world No. 1), they are going to be the dark horse to win a medal. In fact, Boe has been coming to my academy and Chirag has been with him for some time now. Chirag has been with me right through..
Q.What should the BAI do to individual players? Who should be coaching them?
A. Each player should be given a dedicated coach and a physio. You need them by the court side.
Q. They fitness levels have been terrific in the Thailand tournaments.
A. The entire badminton world was surprised to see the level of fitness in the three tournaments played in Bangkok, also the speed and duration of matches.
Q. Momota is expected to return to competitive badminton from the All England.
Then there are Axelsen, Antonsen, Chou Tien Chen, Anthony Ginting and Ng Ka Long Angus in the running for medals in Tokyo.
A. I feel Momota, Axelsen, Ginting and Chou Chen will be the top four. They will be my favourites. Anders Antonsen could be the surprise packet from Europe.
Q. It’s going to be Asia versus one or two European players in both men’s and women’s singles.
A. It will be Asia versus Axelsen and Asia versus Carolina Marin. Asia will dominate the doubles events.
Q. So Indians have a good chance?
A. I would say all three have an outside chance — Srikanth, Sindhu and Satwiksairaj/ Chirag. Though Sindhu was off the track, the three tournaments in Thailand would have been an eye-opener for her. If she works hard, she can surprise the world. She must be missing the South Korean coach Kim Ji Hyun.
Sindhu has the ability. What has to be seen is her preparation and the coach she gets. I don’t know who was with her in Bangkok. It’s too late to get a coach of high calibre now because all are tied up with some team or the other.
Q. Spain’s Carolina Marin, Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon and Pornpawee Chochuwong, the two Japanese girls Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, the South Korean AN Se Young will be hard to beat. Also the Chinese Yu Fei Chen. 
A. The women’s competition will be tough. Not only in the singles but also the doubles. Even the mixed doubles has become competitive and a treat to watch. There was a time when the women played more on the net and the men had to cover 70% of the court, but not any more. The women too play full court and the mixed doubles has become more like regular doubles.
Carolina’s preparation has to be seen to be believed. But, at present, the top ten players are all in good form and are capable of beating anyone on their day.
Q. Where will you put Saina Nehwal?
A. I think the odds are against her now. Her strength was endurance and staying power. I think she is lacking that now.