Mumbai: Muhammad Hafiz Hashim at 2003 Thailand Open, Taufik Hidayat at 2013 Indonesian Open and Lee Chong Wei at All England Championships in 2016. If badminton players were asked to write a CV, B Sai Praneeth could have marked these giant-killing efforts as major highlights of his career.
He was always tipped to achieve bigger things since he took up the sport, but injuries had some other plans. Fortunately for him and fortunately for Indian badminton, he has emerged stronger through all that and the last two years are perhaps the brightest in his career wherein he has won the Singapore Open (2017), Thailand Open (2017), Canada Open (2016) and was a runner-up in Syed Modi International in 2016.
The world number 17 opened up on this, Indian men’s badminton’s collective rise in rankings, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, Gopichand and much more on the sidelines of Umeed India, a TV show hosted by Virender Sehwag.
Here are excerpts from his interview.
1) Last two years have been breakthrough years for you. So, how the things have changed?
Last two years, especially this year, the result was very good. From the last year, since the beginning, I was playing good but did not win the tournaments. But this year, I am winning the tournaments and playing good badminton. So, I am really happy how this year went on. I would love to win more and more tournaments in the coming days and be consistent.
2) You were always looked at as someone with a lot of promise. But injuries hampered your progress. So, how do you see being able to play injury-free badminton now?
It is a good feeling that people have faith in me. Everybody thought the result I got now would have come long back. But there were injuries and my ranking went off, my performance went off. This year, after winning the tournaments, people start to expect a lot. So, I just want to continue good results.
3) Giant-killer Sai? What really keeps you going in big matches?
The approach is nothing so different. I just want to go and win the match. But when I beat Lee Chong Wei (in the opening round of All England Championships in 2016) or when I beat Taufik Hidayat (in the 2003 Thailand Open), I always lost the next round. So, the main thing is once you beat these top players, you have to continue the winning streak in the tournament. It was not happening. But it is happening now, so I feel happy for it.
4) 5 Indian men in top 20. Do you think Indian men’s badminton is at its dominating best collectively?
I think it is the best phase in badminton men’s singles. If you look at the first half of this year, there was I think just one player till June or May and later on, we have five as of now. So, you can see the growth in men’s single. Someone or the other is performing in every tournament. So, I think this is the really good thing for the Indian badminton and for the next generation and for the next group of players. In the future, we will see more of this.
5) How big an influence is Gopichand?
Not just for me, but for all the players performing now, he is the main reason how we are playing now. When he started the academy, I was one of the first batch of his. So, right from the age of 13, I was with him. He is so involved in badminton that he always wants a player to improve a lot every day and give their hundred percent and always thinking about what the player needs and even when we have an injury, he has that confidence that we will come back. He is one of the most important parts of this success.
6) How do you see Mulyo Handoyo coming on board changed the things?
Before he came to India, we were always doing some particular schedule like we were doing the short schedules. But since he came, we suddenly started training for three hours continuously and after getting tired, we were pushing which is making a difference and as we are playing in big matches or long duration matches, this training is helping.
7) On his BWF World Badminton Championships debut
Representing India in the World Championships is a good thing and certainly for the first time. But my approach for the tournament was like any other tournament because all tournaments are equally important. I had prepared well and I aimed for a medal, but unfortunately, I could not (win). But I played good badminton in the World Championships. It was overall a good experience to play a big event the first time.
8) How is the feeling to see you training partners win?
It feels good when someone from our group or a friend wins. It motivates others to win because we all practice together and we are all at the same level. It is always good if someone or the other wins from the group so the confidence will be always high.
9) PV Sindhu’s rise, Saina Nehwal’s comeback. Are these the brightest signs for Indian badminton?
Definitely. Sindhu (Silver) and Saina (Bronze) both got a medal at the World Championships. It is a very good thing for Indian badminton. I thought it was tough for Saina to get a medal, but she played really well. Now, Saina is also back and Sindhu is also playing well. So, overall Indian badminton is raising higher and higher every day.
10) On his targets in the upcoming season
To win the tournaments, win the Superseries, play consistently and getting into the top ten....