EXCLUSIVE: I feel proud that my name will be mentioned along with Prakash Padukone - Sai Praneeth
B Sai Praneeth is among the crop of talented shuttlers, who are promising so much for the future – the promise of turning India into an even potent force in world badminton.
Indian badminton was catapulted into the global spotlight when PV Sindhu created a massive milestone of becoming the country's first shuttler to win the BWF World Championship in Switzerland. There is little doubt that Indian badminton is in good health. As many as seven men's singles players feature in the top-50, while two women's singles players feature in the top-10.
B Sai Praneeth is among this crop of talented shuttlers, who are promising so much for the future – the promise of turning India into an even potent force in world badminton. The 26-year-old Hyderabad lad is doing everything possible to skirt injuries ahead of the crucial Olympic year (2020 Tokyo Olympics) and that precisely explains why he retired hurt midway his first-round match against Denmark's Anders Antonsen at the recent Korea Open, where he had lost the first game 9-21 and was trailing 7-11 when he conceded that game owing to an ankle injury.
Eye on 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Of course, Indian badminton fans would be concerned if it was a severe injury, something brushed aside by the shuttler. "It's not a major niggle – just a minor twist on my ankle and with Olympic year approaching, I did not want to take any chances and so withdrew from the Korea Open," his words would be exceedingly comforting from Indian badminton's standpoint considering the fact that he is one of the contenders for two Olympic men's singles spots that are up for grabs. He further adds his perspective:
The ONGC employee is clear about one thing – he wants to seal his Olympic berth as early as possible. "Look, two players from the top-16 of each country make it to the Tokyo Olympics, and the cut-off date will be the end of April. But I want to seal my Olympic berth early 2020 in January or February so that I can undertake my Olympic preparations in a much better way. This is possible if I'm consistent in the coming three-four months."
The year 2019 and rivalry with Momota
The year 2019 has been more than a decent one for Praneeth – he had finished runners-up at the Swiss Open and was a semifinalist at the Japan Open before he made it 'big', bagging the country's first-ever men's singles World Championship medal in 36 years emulating the iconic Prakash Padukone, who was the last Indian to win a bronze in the 1983 edition in Copenhagen.
It was nothing short of a Cinderella run at the World Championship for Praneeth, who did not drop a game en route to the semifinals – he upset world no 6 Jonatan Christie and world no. 8 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting along the way. Of course, he came up short against Japan's world number one Kento Momota losing in straight games in the semifinals. "I had a super run in the World Championship. I really feel proud that my name will be mentioned along with a great like Prakash sir (Padukone) as World Championship medal winners. It was highly satisfying to enter the last-four stage, and I can now only build on that," gushes Praneeth.
This was Praneeth's third loss to Momota this year after having lost to him in the Singapore Open and Japan Open. The 25-year-old Japanese appears almost insurmountable, and it would take something really special to halt his invincible run in world badminton. "Momota has a solid overall game and is at the moment one step ahead of everyone. He is confident that he can take a match from any situation. Obviously, every shuttler is working hard to get the better of him, and I'm sure the law of averages will catch up with him, and he will crack someday. I had beaten him twice way back in 2013 and lost to him four times since. I will have my game ready for him in future for sure," Praneeth quips with dollops of confidence.
On playing too many tournaments a year
Praneeth, who equalled his best-ever world ranking of 12 (last attained in March 2018) has played fourteen tournaments this year. So how does he assess the idea of playing too many tourneys, sometimes back-to-back? He reasons:
The likes of Srikanth, Praneeth, Prannoy, Sameer and Kashyap consistently meet up in international tourneys. How does the on-court rivalry pan out? "We are all good friends off the court, and our competitive feeling is only confined to the time we are up against each other and nothing beyond. We practice together and help each other and more importantly, enjoy each other's company," he clears the air.
Praneeth loves his badminton but does not miss out on the opportunity to unwind. "I love watching movies and hanging out with friends during my spare time," Praneeth says.
Praneeth will be next seen in action at the Denmark Open, followed by the French Open. The coming months will be crucial for Praneeth, and he knows it too well. "I know if I stay injury-free, I can bring my best game to the table and can beat the best in the business. When you are on a winning streak, your confidence level also goes up," he fires a parting shot.