HYDERABAD: In many ways, B Sai Praneeth is a surprise package. His talent has never been questioned, but there was not much to show for it in his cabinet when it came to performance at the top level. The first time he surprised the nation was when he defeated the much-fancied Kidambi Srikanth to clinch a Super Series title two seasons ago.
However, the biggest surprise gift from him came when he ended a 36-year drought for India’s men’s singles shuttlers by clinching a bronze medal at the World Championships in Basel. Defeating two of the fiercest competitors in the game right now — Indonesians Jonathan Christie and Anthony Ginting — he grabbed what the nation had long been waiting for. Though he could not sustain the momentum against eventual champion and World No 1 Kento Momota of Japan in the semifinals, he had done enough to make people sit up and take notice.
Back in the city after the landmark effort, Sai Praneeth said: “It is a very special moment for me. To do something that had not been done in 36 years makes me really happy.”
Before the biggest tournament in the calendar began, there were few who gave a serious thought to Praneeth bringing back a medal. His most recent performance was a dismal first round exit at the Hyderabad Open, a tournament that does not even attract top names. However, an Arjuna award right before the World Championship boosted the 27-year-old’s confidence. “It (the Arjuna) came at the precise time. It gave me a lot of confidence to go out there and give my best.”
Asked whether he had thought of winning a medal, Praneeth said: “I did. But I knew that it would be very tough. Both the Indonesians have been performing really well throughout the season. Christie has been one of the most consistent players. But I had belief in my abilities.”
Shedding light on his training regime, Praneeth said that both Pullela Gopichand and new men’s singles coach Park Tae Sang’s methods helped him in achieving the feat. “His regime is endurance based. He keeps on telling me to build my endurance levels. Together with the methods of Gopichand sir, things have been working out well for me.”
There was also a hint of appreciation for former coach Mulyo Handoyo of Indonesia. “He was the one who introduced us to endurance-based training. It was tough for us in the beginning, but once we got used to it, we started seeing the results,” he said.
With just 11 more months to go for the Tokyo Olympics to commence, the unassuming shuttler has suddenly catapulted himself as one of the medal hopefuls.