Badminton in India in the last few years has raised hopes of getting Olympic medals for the country. While Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu did it in women’s singles in 2012 and 2016, the men’s singles category is still without the top honours. B Sai Praneeth, a World Championship bronze medalist is India’s hope this time around.
If he manages to better P Kashyap and Kidambi Srikanth’s quarter-final show, he would be assured of a medal. But it is certainly easier said than done. The men’s lineup has only gotten stronger in the last four years, with the likes of Kento Momota, Viktor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen dominating every tournament.
To make matters worse for Praneeth, he has bowed out of five tournaments in the opening rounds, from eight played in 2020 and 2021. But in his own words, he is much better prepared and the previous results will not have any bearing on the results at Olympics. In fact, those performances could be a reflection of the pressure a player has to face in the times of Covid.
“Definitely, these things play on your mind, there’s a lot happening around due to Covid. When you go for a tournament there is a lot of testing, and you keep thinking about the ifs and buts. It’s difficult to focus on the game along with all these distractions," Praneeth told News18 Sports.
“But having said that, it is the same for every player. The key is to now adapt quickly to the new normal and be positive. Personally, what has kept me going is the feeling of being able to qualify for the Olympics. For many players that might not be the motivation, but I have kept that as my target ever since I made the cut."
This year he feels, could be some major surprises in the offing at the Olympics since no one has had decent match practice. “Normally heading into Olympics, you would be playing 7-8 tournaments, and you can assess your performance. But here, like everyone, I’m just training. Although I feeling good about my chances, we would only know the exact situation when the tournament starts. Honestly, I haven’t really thought about the pressure part as yet. My feeling is I can get a medal for the country and am well-prepared for the challenge.
“Besides, I know my current form and the level of training. The only thing which matters now is to be able to give 100%, that will make all the difference. I have a World Championship medal, so I know what needs to be done to win a medal at the biggest stage."
World no.1 Momota is one of the contenders for the gold, but Praneeth not ready to think that the Japanese can sway past him. If anything, he is keen to beat him and feels has a slight advantage over him. “Kento Momota is a threat to every player, not just for me. I have played 2-3 tournaments this year, and he has played one. I’m sure he would be feeling short on match practice coming into the tournament like others. If I do end up playing him, I will have an advantage over him. Currently, we are in a place where no one knows how their opponents are playing. So we all start equal," Praneeth signed off.