I was unlucky to not get selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games India badminton team: Sai Praneeth
He had started 2017 with a bang. He was the runner-up at the Syed Modi International, where he beat compatriot Kidambi Srikanth in the semis, and then, he went on to win his first Superseries title in Singapore, beating Srikanth, yet again, in the final. After that, he won the Thailand Open in June and even made it to the quarters of the Australian Open.
It seemed like B Sai Praneeth was finally coming of age after showing years of promise. However, after the World Championships, his performance graph went down considerably.
2018, though, was going to be a new year, a new beginning and Sai Praneeth began on a positive note. But, two months into the year, things are not looking too bright for the World No 14.
First, it was the omission from the Indian badminton squad for the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG) and then, two days later he was handed a tough draw at the All England Open.
Earlier this week, the team for the Gold Coast Games was announced and Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Pranaav Jerry Chopra, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, and Chirag Shetty were named in the men's team, while Sai Praneeth missed out. There were only two spots for singles players while three doubles players were selected.
It's not like he was not performing well. In fact, Sai had made it to the quarters of the India Open and then, went on to win three out of his four matches at the Asian Team Championships. When Sportskeeda got in touch with Sai for an exclusive chat, the 25-year-old shuttler said that it was probably his bad luck that he wasn't included in the CWG team.
"I'm a little disappointed," Sai made it clear, adding, "Srikanth, Prannoy and me, we have been performing well for some time. But only two singles players get selected in the squad. So, maybe, it was my bad luck that I wasn't included."
However, he admitted that the Indian team looks very strong on paper. So much so, they can even go on to win a gold medal.
"The Indian team is very strong. I think the Indian team can definitely win a medal," Sai said.
"Apart from Srikanth and Prannoy, who are really good players, we have strong players in doubles and mixed doubles. We have Satwik, Chirag and Pranaav, who can win against top shuttlers. The women's team is one of the bests in the world.
"I think India will win many medals at the badminton events, both team and individual. In fact, there is even a very good chance of us winning a gold medal," Sai added.
At the prestigious All England Open, he will meet World No. 5 Son Wan Ho, an opponent against whom he has lost in all three previous meetings. On being asked about the draw, Sai conceded that it was indeed a tough one, but he hadn't expected anything lesser.
"It's a tough draw for me, Son Wan Ho is a very strong player. But then again, it being a premier tournament...it being the All England, every competitor is strong. It's always a challenge, right from the first round. I just need to be focussed and let's hope that I can perform well," he said.
11-point scoring system will only be about smashing
The All England Open will see the new service rule -- which has been widely debated and criticised -- being tested for the first time at a top-level tournament. Sai Praneeth, though, is not worried about it.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm okay with the new service rule. I don't really need to change my service a lot. The shorter guys should not be having much of a problem with it," he said.
However, he isn't too happy with the new 11-point scoring system that has been proposed.
"We have to wait and see how the new rules actually affect the sport, if and when they are implemented. I think, with the 11-point scoring system, the overall quality of badminton itself will go down. The game will be reduced to only smashing the shuttle," Sai opined.
"Initially, when the 21-point system was introduced, the general consensus was that the matches will finish a lot faster and the sport will become more exciting. But with time, the level of competition rose and hence, the matches were not finishing as fast. So, we cannot be too sure of how it will impact before it is actually implemented," he explained.
Sai admitted that it will be tough to adjust to an altogether new system and that it demanded a complete overhaul of the training regime.
The audience may be attracted to the shorter and more exciting matches but at the same time, Sai felt that skill and endurance -- the two basic tenets of the sport -- will not matter much in the 11-point scoring system.
"Personally, I feel the 21-point system is much better than the proposed 11-point system. See, badminton is a game of skill and endurance. In the 11-point system, the endurance won't really come into play. For the older players of the likes of Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan, it will be more beneficial because they will be able to take rest in between the games.
"For the audience, perhaps, it will become more interesting but as a player, it is not something that appeals to me. The new generation, who will play in the new scoring system, will only have to practise smashing. They won't have to think about strategies, conserving their energy and all. So, for me at least, the game will not be much about skill once the 11-point system comes in. Let's see how it goes," he said.
For Sai, things did not go the way he would have planned in the latter part of last year,. This year, though, he is looking to become more consistent.
"Last year, I was performing well initially because I was getting adequate time to rest. But after the World Championships, there was hardly any time to recuperate after the different tournaments. I think that's why my performance went down a little bit.
"Now, though, it's different because I'm planning ahead. I have some more time in between the tournaments to prepare properly. After the All England Open, I'll get a lot of time to rest because I'll not be playing in the Commonwealth Games. So, hopefully, that will be reflected in my performances. I hope to be more consistent, let's see," he signed off.