Badminton: "Olympics was disappointing for me, need to look ahead"— Sai Praneeth seeks redemption
Keeping his eyes on the future, Sai Praneeth will overlook his Olympic debacle and concentrate on the upcoming Sudirman and Thomas and Uber Cup.
2019 World Championships bronze medallist shuttler B Sai Praneeth will spearhead the men's team for the Thomas Cup scheduled in Denmark starting from October 9. The Olympian shuttler will also lead the six member Indian men's team for the Sudirman Cup which is slated to take place from September 26 in Finland. Sai Praneeth in an exclusive conversation with The Bridge spoke on how he is looking forward to both the tournaments and its preparation towards it as he will enter the court for the first time after the Tokyo Olympics debacle.
"I am excited and at the same time it is my first tournament after the Olympics. So, I think I will get a good match practice and some good teams to play. I am really looking forward to it," said the World Championships medallist shuttler while speaking exclusively to The Bridge.
In the Thomas Cup, the Indian team is placed in Group C alongside the defending champions China, Netherlands and Tahiti. On the other hand the women's team is drawn in the Group B along with Thailand, Spain and Scotland in the Uber Cup.
Meanwhile in the 12-member team for the 17th edition of the Sudirman Cup, top-ranked doubles pair from the trials Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun are named in the squad alongside Kidambi Srikanth, Sai Praneeth and star doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. Sudirman Cup will see the Indian team competing along with the defending champions China, Thailand and hosts Finland in the Group A and Sai Praneeth is not taking these draws lightly as he lost to lower ranked opponents in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics.
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"I think the draw is not easy because PV Sindhu is not playing but we can definitely beat the teams. We have to take each event at a time. In singles also we have some young players. We never know what can happen. It is a team event and the pressure is also on the opponents' side also. So, anything may happen and we have a good team and we are really looking forward to it," explained B Sai Praneeth to The Bridge.
Playing in his maiden Olympics, the World No.15 men's singles badminton player Sai Praneeth came up with the worst possible performance - losing his opening group stage match to World No.47 Israeli shuttler Misha Zilberman in straight games and then losing to another lower ranked Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands in straight games, before bundling out of the event. But despite all these failures Sai Praneeth is not thinking too much about the past and wants to focus on the upcoming challenges.
"I think it is really quite a long time and definitely it was a disappointing tournament but we have a lot of tournaments coming up. I can't keep that in mind and spoil all other tournaments. So, as a sportsperson I think anybody will feel bad if you lose the tournament like that in that way. But you also have to think that you have so many other tournaments to focus on and this is not the last tournament of my career," Sai Praneeth reflected while talking to The Bridge.
In Uber Cup all eyes will be on London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal who is making a comeback after failing to make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics and has struggled with injuries a lot in the recent past. Saina Nehwal played a crucial role in India's podium finish in the tournament in 2014 and Sai Praneeth believes that it is her hunger which is still driving the 31-year-old former World No.1.
"Definitely she has a hunger in her and everybody knows that is why she is still playing. She is one of the greatest players of India. I think she is the one who changed Indian badminton. So, definitely she is already fighting and I hope she performs well and I think there will be bad times for every sportsperson. So, you need to come out and as a sportsperson you need to come out and have to perform well in the upcoming tournament," mentioned Sai Praneeth about Saina Nehwal making a comeback.
In team events, doubles pairs hold as much an importance as singles players in order to win and advance to knockout stages. For India too the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are going to play a crucial role in both the Sudirman Cup and Thomas Cup as the World No.10 duo performed well in Tokyo Olympics by becoming the first Indian men's doubles pair to win two badminton matches at the Olympics.
"Definitely their match is most important and two or three years ago we were not so confident but now really confident that they can beat anybody. Definitely it is a good opportunity for them to prove that they are one of the most important pairs," said Sai Praneeth about the Indian duo who won the silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
According to B Sai Praneeth India will sorely miss their star Indian shuttler PV Sindhu who recently bagged a bronze in Tokyo Olympics and became the first Indian woman and only the second Indian individual to win two Olympic medals.
"Definitely Sindhu is the main player for them and yeah the effect will be there but as I said it is a team event so anything may happen. She is the best player but the young players have a really good chance," explained Sai Praneeth.
Not only in the women's squad but the men's squad too there are a lot of talented youngsters who will get an opportunity to compete at such a big and challenging stage and according to Sai Praneeth India has a lot of bright stars in both singles and doubles.
"In men's we have Kiran George who is very young and also doubles players of Arjun, Dhruv and Krishna Prasad. These guys are coming up and looking for a very good performance," expressed Sai Praneeth while speaking to The Bridge.
For the Thomas Cup, the 10-member men's squad comprises four singles players and three doubles pairs. Alongside Praneeth and the former World No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth, top-2 singles players from the trials - Kiran George and Sameer Verma have received places in the team. Therefore, this tournament comes as an opportunity for Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth to redeem themselves while Sudirman Cup comes as an opportunity for youngsters to make their mark.