Now, it can't get bigger than this..
Only the 2nd male player in Indian history to clinch a medal at the World Badminton Championships 2019 & the Arjuna Award Winner, Sai Praneeth is quite a sensation in India.
It was no stopping Sai in his early years, as he went on to clinch the National title in U10, followed by U13,16 & 19 and a bronze in World Juniors Badminton. I clearly remember Singapore Open 2017, when I got a first glimpse of his game as a spectator & that game against Thailand's Tanongsak was actually a nerve wracking one. That was the year, when Sai took the global centerstage as he was crowned champion at the Singapore Open Superseries, beating K Srikanth in the finals. Indian Badminton has progressed leaps and the credit goes to players like Sai who has cemented India's dominance in the world circuit.
In this conversation with Cynergy, Sai opens up more about his journey post the 2017 historic win & shares more about the rising expectation after winning medal in the World Badminton Championships 2019.
Read in to know more & leave your comments.
How do you see Singapore Open as a platform in the international arena? Given that you yourself had an incredible run in 2017 & winning the title.
I feel Singapore open is one amongst the few best held tournaments in the year across the globe and I really like playing there.
Continuing with above question - How have things changed after that win in 2017?
Singapore Open, has been a turning point for my career. Winning that year, gave me a lot of confidence on my game and made me understand what needs to do to win big tournaments.
Sai, during Singapore Badminton Open
In 2019, I was watching you closely as a media, giving a tough fight to World top seed player #1 Kento Momoto & even in the last 5 mins of the game, it was unclear on which way its going to end. Whatever be the result, what was very evident, is your grit and determination competing against the top seed.
You have also had some major successes against world's top players like beating Indonesia's Taufiq (Olympic gold medalist) on his home turf, beating Olympic silver medalist Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in All England super series & eventually being the only 4th player in Indian history to be winning Singapore open in 2017. While these upsets give great confidence on your abilities, how do you see yourself emerging from these upsets into a lead tournament winner?
Its feel great to be at this level after so many years of hard work. Winning against top players feels great, but in past, I never used to capitalise those wins and ended up losing the next rounds. But now, I have learnt a lot from those mistakes and it definitely feels happy to be achieving something which has gone in the history books.
Becoming only the 2nd player in Indian history to clinch a medal at the World Badminton Championships 2019, only the next to Prakash Padukone. Take us through this journey of transformation in yourself.
There has been so many ups and downs in this journey and as I mentioned learning & capitalizing on those big wins was the key. But now I feel more confident, capable and feel more ready. The hard work and focus has made me achieve these feats. There is no substitute to the hard work and dedication. That's the key.
Sai, with Gopi Sir, after winning the medals at World Badminton Championship 2019 (Credit - Instagram)
You have climbed the rankings very swiftly, from 56th in 2014 to world ranked 13th now. How does it feel to be there? how do you see your journey so far & what's your assessment of your game? Does these ranking play on your mind, and adds to pressure?
Rankings definitely plays on my mind, because every major events entry & qualification depends on your current rankings. So we have to really toil hard to maintain our rankings & also our contracts and engagements depend a lot on rankings. There is surely some pressure when things are close, but I am used to it. It's perfectly alright to play with such expectations, as it helps us to push our limits.
Continuing to the previous question Q#5 - what do you think will take you in the top 10? Be it the games you play, physically or mentally.
I was World Ranked #10 last year. To remain there consistently and go up the rankings, fitness & consistency is very important. Performing consistently at highest level, will automatically result in good rankings. Players at the top have great fitness levels, and we aren't far from there.
How do you see the rising expectations from Sai? Does it impact or creates any sort of pressure on your performance?
When we play well at big tournaments, people will surely have high expectations. They also need to understand it's a sport and not all games/tournaments can be won. Everyone goes for a win, so that energy & intensity is all is required. People surely start talking when we don't perform and also praise us so much when we win. I personally don't think much about these. Just ensuring that I give my 100% every time I hit the court.
Sai, in action on the courts
Talking about PBL, tell us about your experience as the leader (Skipper of Bengaluru Raptors) of the lot. How is the comradery with other top ranked players like Tai Tzu Ying.
Tai is a great player and a wonderful human being. It was really fun playing with and leading the team from the front.
Continuing to the previous question – How do you sum-up the win for Bengaluru Raptors? And the change it can bring to your team, in the coming years.
Felt great winning the trophy for Bengaluru for 2 consecutive years. The owners have been very supportive throughout, showed lots of confidence in me which allowed me to play freely and play well. There are not much changes to make in the current structure, as the owners have some strategy in making the team and they have been fairly successful in doing so.
3rd in a Row for Sai, winning the PBL trophy yet again (Credit - Instagram)
Coming to your preparation aspects on a daily basis, during Covid19.
How is your daily schedule like, as games are all stopped, and we are all in a lockdown?
I am doing online training sessions mornings & evenings for around an hour each. It includes of body strengthening, core, agility workouts and racquet shadows.
One of the good things for players is that they are getting sometime to regroup, self-reflect, spend good time with family etc. How has it been for you, in that regard?
It has been a good time for me as I could spend more time with my wife & my family members, which is not possible with the normal sporting routine.
What is your viewpoint on the sport which has halted completely due to Covid19? How will it impact agility for top seed players like you and others globally?
The impact of covid-19 was very bad on our sport, as its very tough to get back to the normal fitness, after not doing anything for a very long time. Only time will tell, but as sportsman I could say that it is not doing good for us. Just staying fit and ensuring that our agility is intact, will be the key once the game starts.
Upcoming tournaments you may be focusing on in the near future, post Covid19
My main target is the Olympics next year, so once everything starts post covid19, my first focus will be on getting back to the normal game, train hard, and maintain top fitness for Olympic qualification tournaments.
About your coach, Gopi Sir. How special he has been in your career journey? What message would you like to give to the youngsters trying their best to rise up the ranks.
Gopi sir has definitely played a very important role in shaping my career & also for the Indian Badminton, as a coach. Lots of credit goes to him, for what we are today. Young upcoming stars have a very good future too. They must enjoy the game, work hard and stay patient. These are the three key things to manage, for long term growth.