Saina Nehwal has written to the Badminton Association of India conveying her decision to not be a part of trials for this year's Commonwealth and Asian Games. "Trials [to be held this week] at this point make no sense really," Saina told ESPN on Tuesday. "The Asian Games is still five months away. Two weeks after Europe tournaments and a week and a half before the Asian Championships, I didn't want to put my body through another set of matches. I can't take that chance. It's okay if other players are considered good enough and more deserving than I am. I have no problem."
"I skipped the Korea tournaments so I could prepare for the Asian Championships later this month," Saina said. "In the middle of a busy stretch of tournaments, sudden trials do seem like a way of creating unnecessary pressure. I've had good results at the Games in the past but it's not that I'm emotional about it. I just want to give all I have at whichever tournament I play next and do well for my country. That's my simple target."
While Sindhu, Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth and Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty have confirmed their berths in the national team for the Games by virtue of their rankings, selection trials to pick the rest of the players will be held from April 15-20 in New Delhi. At no 23 in the world, Saina is India's second-highest ranked female singles player after Sindhu. However, her standing has somewhat suffered with her run of largely underwhelming results and an injury-ravaged loss to emerging 20 year-old compatriot, Malvika Bansod at the India Open earlier this year.
"With the rankings yet to be unfrozen and many of these young players not having had enough chances against top-quality opponents, trials seemed like the practical way to judge everyone's levels. Of course it may not be the best method since it just comes to performance over a handful of days, but it was the only fair option available," said a senior BAI official.
Last year Saina decided to skip the World Championships - a first since her 2006, Madrid debut as a 16 year-old. She's been an eight-time quarterfinalist and two-time medalist at the Worlds. Now it's the turn of two quadrennial Games in which she's been a constant medal fixture to drop off her calendar. She's a defending champion in one of them. Her consistency at these events over the years is hard to overlook but at 32, she's reckoning with an unforgiving fate. Though she's not talking of the finish line just yet. "Hopefully", she says, "the next Olympics will be fair game."
Saina's previous six tournaments have yielded four second-round and two first-round exits. Her body and its obstinate string of niggles has been her primary foe. She did occasionally display her vintage tenacity - like against Akane Yamaguchi at this year's All England Open, taking the second-round match to three games and ten minutes shy of an hour and running the world No 2 close before losing.
However, Saina played down the significance of the injuries. "It's being said that I have career-threatening injuries. I'd like to point out that no injury is career threatening. An athlete can always come back."
Saina's husband and fellow player Parupalli Kashyap also spoke of the injury factor being overstressed. "Everyone thought she was finished after the knee injury in Rio. The next year, in 2017, she won a World Championship medal," he told ESPN.
He also questioned the BAI's handling of the issue. "She didn't even receive the circular about the trials. I had to show it to her. There's been absolutely no effort from the federation to even reach out to Saina. It's unfortunate that someone who's won so many medals for the country is being treated so shabbily today."