Former world No.1 Saina Nehwal is going through the toughest phase of her career and needs to take care of herself so as to avoid any more defeats, says former national champion and coach U Vimal Kumar.
Saina, currently ranked 20th in the world, was knocked out of the first round of the ongoing Toyota Thailand Open. She had earlier fallen in the second round of the Yonex Thailand Open, which was also her first tournament since the All England Championships in March, 2020.
Kumar said that Saina looked "out of shape" in Thailand. "It is not going to be easy for her to bounce back. I have always said that if she has no pain, she will play well. More than the pain though she didn't look very fit to me. Maybe after the COVID issue and all she is still recovering from it," Kumar told IANS.
A two-time national champion, Kumar felt Saina is going through the toughest phase of her career.
"I think so. 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," said Kumar who won the national title in 1988 and 1989.
"The workouts, physical training and other things have to be really specific. She has to plan all this a lot better and that is the only way she can come out of this. Losing more matches like this will affect her confidence. It is not only just physical, there is a lot of mental aspects (at play) as well. She is a strong girl but these results can affect her," he said.
Saina had worked with Kumar in her formative years and later between 2014 and 2017 when she became the first Indian badminton player to achieve a No.1 ranking and won silver at the World Championships.
The Hyderabad-based Saina's best finishes in 2020 came when she reached the quarterfinals in the Malaysia Masters in January and the Barcelona Masters in February. The last time she won a title was the 2019 Indonesia Masters held in January.
Saina is currently 15th in the rankings for the Tokyo Olympics. With Sindhu already ranked seventh, Saina needs to break into the top eight to qualify for the Games. The tournaments in Thailand are not part of the Olympic qualifying period, which is scheduled to start with the Swiss Open on March 2.
"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," said Kumar.
He, however, also said that the fact remains that while Saina and most of the Indian players are playing their first tournaments since March, when the national lockdown began, many of their opponents have had prior match practice with domestic championships being held in many countries.
"They are all awfully short of match practice. All of them are playing after more than 10 months which is not good. Sindhu also needs more matches; it's the only way she can get back. We have to see how things go in March when things open up," said Kumar.