Indian shuttlers may not be able to compete in Malaysian Open

PETALING JAYA: The participation of 19 Indian shuttlers in the Malaysian Open from May 25-30 is in limbo following the Malaysian government’s decision to temporarily bar flights and travellers, to and from India, starting today.

And with the tournament just four weeks away, the travel ban will most likely remain for an unforeseen period of time given the worsening Covid-19 situation in India with a 1.4 billion population.

India has recorded an average of 320,000 new daily infections over the past one week and the local media reported that the ongoing second wave is projected to peak in the middle of May, where daily cases could reach 500,000.

If the travel ban remains in force, the 32-man men’s singles field will be diluted as seven of India’s shuttlers have signed up for the event.

Among their notable players are former world No. 1 K. Srikanth (pic) and B. Sai Praneeth, the 2019 World Championships’ bronze medallist.

The women’s singles competition could also see reigning world champion P.V. Sindhu and former world No. 1 Saina Nehwal missing from the list.

There are also 10 doubles shuttlers bound for the Malaysian Open accounting for three main draw berths in the men’s doubles and two each in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

The recent developments would deal a massive blow especially to Srikanth and Saina as their hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics are all but over.

Their qualification path became complicated last week itself after another qualifying event, their home event the Indian Open (May 11-16), was postponed because of the surge in Covid-19 cases.

Srikanth, the quarter-finalist in Rio Olympics, is seeking to break the top 16 of the Race to Tokyo standings in order to join Praneeth to the quadrennial Games in July.

In the singles competition, a country can qualify a maximum of two shuttlers if both are in the top 16. Srikanth is ranked 20th while Praneeth is 13th.

“I don’t know what’s in store anymore. Ideally, the Olympics should have been originally scheduled for the end of this year, so there’s enough time for qualification events, ” said Srikanth in an interview with ESPN India recently.

“Personally, I think whatever is being played out now is a little unfair. I don’t think the world is ready to host tournaments at the moment.

“It’s still not over for me, though. If I can manage the semi-final in Malaysia and the quarter-final in Singapore, that’ll be good for my qualification chances. Of course, that’s assuming these competitions take place.”

Saina, who won India’s first ever medal in badminton in London 2012 after clinching bronze, also faced a similar situation in her bid to qualify for her fourth successive Olympics.

Saina sits 22nd in the women’s singles Olympic ranking while Sindhu is a shoo-in at seventh.

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