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Exclusive: In-form Sai Praneeth eyes more success in Olympic year; aims for confident start in BATC, All England

Hyderabad, Feb 10: Ace India shuttler B Sai Praneeth is upbeat with his performances in the just-concluded Premier Badminton League (PBL) 2020 where he played an important role in guiding his team Bengaluru Raptors to their second consecutive title.

Raptors, the defending champions, defeated North Eastern Warriors 4-2 in the final in Hyderabad on Sunday (February 9). Praneeth set the pace for his team in the all-important final as he came from behind to win the second and third game against Lee Cheuk Yiu to put his team in the command. After losing the first game narrowly 14-15, Praneeth showed great resolve and skills to outclass his opponent in the remaining two games and won them 15-9, 15-3.

The 27-year-old Hyderabadi shuttler now setting his sights on the upcoming Badminton Asia Team Championships (BATC), starting February 11. Praneeth was the brightest star for India in 2019 with a medal at the world championship and a runner-up finish at the Spain Masters.

He was consistent at the BWF World Tour events that saw him emerge as the best-placed Indian in BWF ranking at number 11. He now aims at starting the next season on a positive note and carries on the momentum in the Olympic year.

After winning his tie in the PBL final, Praneeth interacted with reporters and responded to the questions about his form and preparations in the Olympic year.

Here are the excerpts:

MyKhel: You were in total control in the second and third game after losing the first game what was the reason behind it?

Sai Praneeth: In the first game, during the initial eight-to-nine points, I wasn't moving well and that went against me. I was a little stiff and he started very fast, and later on, I got into my zone. However, I was confident that I can still make a comeback in the second game and once the third game started and I took three-four points, I was in control. I was confident of taking the third game and the opponent was under pressure by then.

MK: So was there any change in strategy in the second game?

SP: Nothing. I think the first game was on the faster side while the second game went on the slower side, so my pushes were going good. I was hitting hard and from there it isn't easy for anyone to counter-attack. So all that gave me confidence and I kept putting him under pressure which aided my cause.

MK: You lost your men's singles tie in the semi-finals. So what was going through your mind before the finals?

SP: Nothing. I knew it will be a big match tonight and I'll have to give my best in this game to keep my team ahead. I prepared well, (I) knew that I lost to him in the league match to I did my homework well and came back strongly. I just thought of giving my best without thinking much about the results for that is something which is not in our control.

MK: Fitness has been a concern because that has prevented you from being consistent.

SP: Yes, that has been the case because a lot of tournaments are happening around and now I can't skip any of them for this is an Olympic year. Due to the PBL and maybe because I didn't play many tournaments, think I am in better shape now. I'll be heading to Manila for BATC (Badminton Asia Team Championships) after returning from there I'll be training for three weeks for the All England Championships. Hopefully, by that time I would have gained my fitness by hundred per cent.

MK: Any special plans for you considering this is an Olympic year?

SP: No. As of now, my sole focus is on playing continuously and getting better with every game. Once the tournaments and qualifications are done, I'll have enough time to work on my strategy for the Olympics.

MK: What has been the biggest positives for you from the previous season where you did well?

SP: A lot of positives actually. I am really confident about my game. Sometimes when you play against higher-ranked players and do well it improves your confidence. And when you lose after playing close games against big players, you learn and improve. As long as I am playing well, and I know that I am playing well, the result doesn't matter.

MK: Are you able to keep yourself calm and composed even after losing the games?

SP: Yeah, I think that much of the experience I have possessed now.

MK: What according to you has been a reason for the other men's singles players not doing well in the previous season?

SP: I played well in the last season. I don't know about the others but I did reasonably well. The training was going well, I was fit. Maybe the others were low on confidence. If they get a couple of good wins in the tournaments this year, they'll regain their form.

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Story first published: Monday, February 10, 2020, 19:19 [IST]
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