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B Sai Praneeth, the history maker who lost a bright career to pandemic, takes up coaching in US

Sai Praneeth ended India's 36-year wait for a World Championships medal in 2019 by winning a bronze medal. Before him, only Prakash Padukone achieved the feat. By bidding farewell to his playing career, Praneeth turns to coaching in the USA.

Indian badminton player Sai Praneeth

B Sai Praneeth is a former BWF World Championships medallist. (Photo credit: BWF)


Deepanshu Jain

Updated: 6 March 2024 4:09 AM GMT

Indian shuttler B Sai Praneeth brought the curtain down on his prolific playing career by embarking on a new journey in the United States of America (USA). Praneeth joined a series of former Indian players who took up coaching.

Praneeth was the second-ever Indian male to win a medal at the BWF World Championships as he won the bronze medal in 2019.

Among his other feats are his career-best world ranking of 10 and qualification to the Covid-19 pandemic-induced Tokyo Olympics.

Praneeth wrote an emotional letter on social media on Monday announcing his retirement. "Badminton, you have been my first love, my constant companion, shaping my character and giving purpose to my existence. The memories we’ve shared, the challenges we’ve overcome, will forever be etched in my heart," he wrote.

Of late, however, Praneeth had been going through a torrid time as his career was plagued with injuries and a slew of first-round exits since 2020 when the pandemic affected his rhythm.

The 31-year-old could have played a few more years of badminton. But owing to the lack of positive results, he decided to retire and focus on coaching, grabbing a lucrative assignment with the Synergy Badminton Academy in North Carolina.

Praneeth retired with a world ranking of 108.

"With a mix of emotions, I bid farewell and announce my retirement from the sport that has been my lifeblood for over 24 years. Today, as I embark on a new chapter, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the journey that brought me here," Praneeth wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The peak years (2017-2019)

Praneeth came to prominence in 2010 when he won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships - a tournament that accommodated star shuttlers like Viktor Axelsen and HS Prannoy. But, Praneeth had always been a slow bloomer; it took him seven years to win a major medal.

He won the Singapore Super Series title in 2017 when he beat Kidambi Srikanth, who had just then reached the summit of the BWF world rankings and was at the peak of his form, in the final.

Praneeth came from behind to topple his compatriot to register a come-from-behind victory. He later won another title at Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold beating the current world no. 9 Jonathan Christie in the final.

He continued his golden form to enter the World Championships in Basel in 2019 as the 16th seeded. He was not in an outstanding touch building in the build-up to the event. However, Praneeth showed excellent defensive prowess against one of the most attacking players, sixth-seeded Anthony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia to enter the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinal, a determined Praneeth ousted another Indonesian in Christite to win his first-ever World Championships medal. He won the match in straight games but not before a classic first game where Praneeth saved a game point before prevailing 24-22. He won the second game comfortably 21-14. Praneeth, however, lost in the semifinal to Kento Momota and settled for the bronze medal.

The win etched his name into the top echelon of Indian badminton. Praneeth ended India's 36-year wait for a medal at the Worlds. The first Indian to win a medal at the World Championship was legendary Prakash Padukone, who achieved the feat in 1983.

Praneeth gradually rose through the rankings and became a crucial member of the Indian men's team. He led them to the bronze medal at the 2020 Badminton Asia Team Championships.

Olympics debacle and pandemic

Praneeth was the lone representative for India in the men's singles category at the Tokyo Olympics. He was carrying high hopes, especially after his World Championships feat but it proved to be a disastrous outing for him.

The pandemic effected a deadly blow on Praneeth's rising career. Firstly, the biggest setback was the postponement of the Olympics by a year, this completely broke his momentum. Though he somehow managed to recover and was ready to continue his form after a one-year break, he was put down by the Covid-19 virus. He tested positive and withdrew from the Thailand Open Super 1000.

The recovery from this wasn't very easy for Praneeth, and he faced a few health issues. He played his first-ever Olympics but suffered a group-stage exit after losing his group-stage matches to lower-ranked opponents Misha Zilberman and Mark Caljouw.

Praneeth faced a lot of criticism due to his failure at the Olympics. He decided to leave that behind and get back to his rhythm but luck wasn't in his favour. He fell sick again by contracting the Covid-19 virus for the second time in 2022, just before the India Open. This time the recovery was even worse as he suffered a few injuries after his return to health.

However, he still managed to make a roaring comeback later that year by winning the gold medal at the National Games in Gujarat. But he could not translate his success at the National Games into international glory. Despite several efforts, he never could regain his old touch and full fitness.

Embarking on a new journey

Praneeth will now be heading to the USA, the host of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, to begin his journey into coaching. The USA team is slowly progressing on the international stage and utilising the sheer experience of Praneeth, they will aim to make it big at the LA 2028.

"As I close this chapter of my professional life, I carry with me a treasure trove of memories, friendships, and the indomitable spirit of a badminton player. Though I bid farewell to competitive play, my love for badminton will endure in various capacities, whether it’s coaching, mentoring, or advocating for the sport’s growth and success." Praneeth said.

Praneeth, however, is not the only former Indian player to turn to coaching. His former teammates like Gurusai Dutt and Parupalli Kashyap have recently entered this field and earned substantial success. Kashyap, in fact, is currently working with Kidambi Srikanth.

Praneeth has many role models to look up to on his journey to becoming a successful coach. While this field might be more challenging than his playing career, as things will never be in his hands, and he has to watch matches from the sidelines, the grit and determination he showed as a player may drive him to the top.

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