2021 Thailand Open: Top shuttlers back in action after long break

Silver medalist Pusarla V. Sindhu of India (L) and bronze medalist Saina Nehwal of India (R) celebrate on the podium during Women's Singles medals ceremony on day ten of the 2018 Asian Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia.  (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)
Silver medalist Pusarla V. Sindhu of India (L) and bronze medalist Saina Nehwal of India (R) celebrate on the podium during Women's Singles medals ceremony on day ten of the 2018 Asian Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

Badminton action kicks off in the New Year with Thailand ready to host three consecutive tournaments

The world’s top badminton stars are set to make their return to the court as action kicks off in Thailand, which will host three consecutive tournaments in January, starting with the Thailand Open tomorrow (Tuesday 12 January).

Last year was marred by restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, and after most competitions including the Olympic Games were delayed, qualification for Tokyo 2020 will be back on players’ mind when they step onto the court in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Top stars back in action

World number one MOMOTA Kento and top stars including YAMAGUCHI Akane, LONG Chen, CHEN Yu Fei and OKUHARA Nozomi will be missing the tournament.

Even though the ongoing pandemic has prevented the participation of players from Japan and People's Republic of China, the Thailand Open will see over 800 players in action including the likes of Viktor Axelsen, Anders Antonsen, CHOU Tien Chen, TAI Tzu Ying, PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin.

Denmark’s Axelsen will open the tournament with a game against Thailand’s Sitthikom Thammasin, while world number two Chou faces Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk. In the women’s draw, reigning world champion Sindhu will face Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt, while world number one Tai will take on Nitchaon Jindapol.

Strict protocols, a ‘green bubble’ and tight safety measures

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has taken all precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19 and ensure the safety of players, coaches, working staff and tournament officials. Each person who will be part of the Thailand Open in any capacity underwent a mandatory test and required a negative certificate to participate.

Before the players and their respective entourages proceeded towards the hotel from the airport, thermal checks were conducted, following which a period of isolation began. Until practice commenced on 4 January, all athletes and their personnel were confined to a ‘green bubble.’

Fortunately, all 824 personnel including players, coaches and officials tested negative for COVID-19 and received the clearance to train under protocols.

High stakes, Olympic qualification and an opportunity

Following the disruption of 2020, several tournaments that carried points for Olympic qualification were pushed to 2021 - starting with the Swiss Open in March and ending with the Indian Open in May.

After the three tournaments in Thailand, culminating in the BWF World Tour Finals, world rankings will be announced in the first week of February. So the Thailand leg of the BWF tour gives many players a good chance to make a comeback and provide an opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Players such India’s Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth - who both faced periods on the sidelines due to injuries - will see these tournaments as opportunities to bounce back and gain some form amid the absence of players from People's Republic of China and Japan.