NHAT Nguyen is hoping he can finally enjoy some downtime to finally shake off his “long Covid” after a helter-skelter run of tournaments in 2021.
The Clarehall man contracted coronavirus in late January and duly spend four weeks cooped up in a hotel room before getting the all clear to hit badminton’s European circuit with a bang.
On St Patrick’s day, he landed one of the biggest wins of his badminton career to date when he defeated eighth seed Srikanth Kidambi – the world number 13 – at the All England Open 2021.
Nguyen caught Srikanth by surprise in the opening game, winning 21-11 before the Indian fought back to level the contest.
But the Dubliner produced a superb final game, scoring seven points in a row to run out a 21-12 victor.
That event came hot on the heels of the Swiss Open in Basel and, last week, he was in action at the Orleans Masters, all the while finding his energy levels have been nowhere near his optimum levels.
Reflecting on the situation during a crucial phase in the Olympic qualifying process, he told the Dublin Gazette this week: “I’m definitely still affected by it, struggling with it. I haven’t felt fully like myself when I came back from Covid and back to training.
“Physically, I feel tired and energy levels not there. I get tired really quick. I have had countless blood tests and doctors appointments to check things out but it is nowehere near my normal levels.”
What is has done is allow him to adapt his game plan, working out ways to switch things up to manage his energy reserves.
“I rely on my speed and endurance a lot so I had to be more energy-efficient and smarter in my play and not go too fast.
“I did end up playing longer rallies but only going at 50 or 60% pace to be comfortable. It is one of the good things is I can change around but, if I was in better shape, I could have done even better in that All England tournament.”
For now, he can take a four-week break ahead of the European Championships in Kiev, Ukraine.
He does so comfortable in the knowledge that he has probably done enough to make the cut-off for Tokyo, although formal confirmation will not arrive until early June. He is 25th in that ranking list, well inside the cut-off of 40 places.
As such, it has allowed him to set out what he hopes for at the Olympics.
“I want to emulate what Scott [Evans] did in Rio; he was the first Irish guy to win a match – and then win two – and qualify for the last 16. To qualify from the group stages, you have to beat a top 16 seed.
“That’s something I feel I have in my arsenal, especially off the big result at the All-England competition. It is a big goal for my first Olympics but it is definitely achievable.
“Looking at his results, I want to do that! I want to be there and there’s no reason why not. He grew up in Ireland, came through the same system. I train with the same people he grew up with. You always look up to your senior players. You see Sam and Chloe [Magee] medal at European games and big championships. It does have a big impact on me.”
Indeed, he has already tried to emulate one of Evans’ signature moves, the iconic shirt-ripping moment one of the images of the 2016 Games in Rio.
“Haha. When I won the first round of the All-England, I ripped my top off. It was the first match of the tournament, I don’t think there were any photographers were there – I was waiting to see if any photos came up but they didn’t!
“They weren’t allowed stream it also because they weren’t allowed into the stands! So there’s no evidence of it so hopefully I can do it on a bigger stage!”
** FBD Brand Ambassador Nhat Nguyen was announced as one of the recipients of the ‘Make A Difference’ programme, a €50,000 grant funded by the Olympic Federation of Ireland, in conjunction with official sponsor FBD Insurance, with the aim of assisting Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls in their preparation for the Olympic Games. FBD Insurance are primary sponsors of Team Ireland as they look to represent their country at Tokyo 2020.