World champion PV Sindhu remains India's best Olympic medal prospect but she has to give more attention to her recovery process between matches to achieve the feat at the Tokyo Games, according to former India badminton coach Vimal Kumar.
Sindhu didn't have a good outing in the three events in Thailand in January and even though she reached the finals at Swiss Open and the semifinals at All England, she suffered demoralising losses to Olympic champion Carolina Marin and Thailand's Pornpawee Chochuwong respectively.
"I feel the best (Olympic) medal prospect is Sindhu, she can and there is still time. She showed some glimpses against Akane Yamaguchi (at All England quarters). But she needs to give more attention to recovery to be ready for next match because there will not be 24 hours to recover," Vimal told PTI.
"Maybe ice bath, there are so many ways to get rid of the lactic acid accumulation after a tough match. If she can look into those aspects, she will be all right. I don't think she has any fitness issue."
At the Swiss Open final, Sindhu was beaten by Marin 12-21 5-21, while Chochuwong beat the Indian 21-17 21-9 in the All England semis. However, the Indian showed great intensity during her win over Japan's Akane Yamaguchi in the All England quarterfinals.
"She has been very sluggish against Marin and Pornpawee. Between matches what you do, that matters, it is sometimes tough to recover due to the schedule. Look at the tennis players, after 5-6 hours of gruelling matches, they again play five-setters. So recovery really matters," Vimal said.
"Some top players take ice bath immediately after a match and also before going to sleep. It is very common in international level. But I think you need to give her some space and she will come back." Asked about London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, who is racing against time to qualify for her fourth Olympics, Vimal said it will very tough for her to make it to Tokyo given her recent results.
"Saina is still injury-prone. She can qualify but it all depends on India Super 500, she has to do well here. It is a very tough job, after India Open, she also has to do well in Malaysia and Singapore," said Vimal, who coached Saina from 2014 to 2017.
Another Indian player who is struggling to find form is Rio Games quarterfinalist Kidambi Srikanth. He had claimed four super series titles in 2017 to eventually hold the world no. 1 position briefly in 2018 but he is now desperately looking for ranking points to book a Tokyo Olympics berth.
"He lost to a young french player (Toma Junior Popov) in Orleans Masters and at All England he lost to a Vietnamese guy from Ireland (Nhat Nguyen). For his standards these are poor results, he needs to find some sort of tactical inputs, employ some strategies, he looks clueless when playing," Vimal said.
"He was always a player who would come to the net quickly, it was difficult to read his shots when he would jump, he seldom uses those now." Srikanth had pulled out of Yonex Thailand Open due to a calf injury while he was forced to withdraw from Toyota Thailand Open after his roommate B Sai Praneeth had tested positive for COVID-19.
"Srikanth seems to be under a lot of pressure, I also don't see the joy in his face, he seems to be tensed always. These factors are letting him down," Vimal said.
"It is becoming difficult for him (to qualify for Olympics). At India Open, he has to get to semifinals. He has to reach semifinals and finals at Singapore and Malaysia to make it to Olympics." Will a mental conditioning coach help? "A mental conditioning coach will help only when he is doing the right training. What physical training he is doing, the on-court sessions, all those things have to balance out. Otherwise, a sports psychologists cannot do any magic."