Hyderabad: There are no airs about him. He is unassuming. There is a smile always on his face. He exudes positivity. He is a shuttler who is overshadowed by the likes of Sindhu, Saina, Srikkanth and Kashyap. But B Sai Praneeth has carved a niche for himself, being the second player after Prakash Padukone to win a medal in the 2019 World championships. He is a quiet but effective performer.
As he prepares for the Tokyo Olympics he is quietly confident of a good show where he thinks can become the first men’s player to win an Olympic medal in badminton. But he has been burdened by a few obstacles and disappointments.
First, Pullela Gopichand opted out and then his foreign coach Agus Dwi Santoso would not be available at the court as he has been relegated to extra official, thanks to IOA’s whimsical policies. “It is a big disappointment not to have my coach on the court. I have taken it in my stride and I am focused on winning a medal,” he said, adding, in the absence of Santoso on the court, Sindhu’s coach Park Tae-sung will do the duties.
But the 28-year-old is obviously excited as it is the Olympics. “Every player dreams to play and win an Olympic medal. I could realize the first one and now I have a chance to make that dream a reality. The Olympics come once every four years. I won a bronze in the World Championship but winning a medal in the Olympics will give a different meaning to my life and career. Every sportsperson yearns for an Olympic medal and so I’m no different. I’m working hard and I know that the next few weeks are very important. I would like to return with a medal,’’ he said.
The Hyderabad shuttler stated that winning the bronze in the World Championship did give him a lot of confidence. “It gave the belief I can win medals in world events. I need to carry that confidence into the Olympics. I’m happy with the draws but every match will be tough. It is not about Kento Momota but there are others who are hungry to excel in Olympics.’’
He said thanks to Covid-19 a lot of the plans went haywire. “We could not play any tournaments. But if only I had suffered then I would have felt hurt but it is the same scenario throughout the world. We are all in the same boat. So the focus has shifted to our fitness and training sessions.’’
Praneeth did agree that the men’s competition has become physically stronger. “Over the years, I have become strong mentally but I’m working on physical training. I know I have the skills but I have to take on the best players with a strong game. In fact in this lockdown period, I worked on my game and improved my physical fitness.’’
The genial shuttler pointed out there is some regret of playing in front of empty crowds in this Olympics because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It will be a different Olympics, for sure. There will be a lot of restrictions, both in the court and in the Village. But importantly playing in Olympics is a big bonus otherwise we have to wait for another four years for the next Olympics.’’
Praneeth said he has benefitted a lot from Santoso. “He is an experienced coach as he has trained the Indonesian, Korean, Thailand and the Malaysian teams. Ever since he took over as Indian coach unfortunately there have been no tournaments. So he is relying on the videos and planning the strategies. He has emphasized on fitness a lot and discusses with Gopi Anna, who I will miss him in Tokyo Olympics.’’
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