Tokyo Olympics 2021: Can Sai Praneeth make his Olympic debut? 

Sai Praneeth in the Daihatsu Yonex Japan Open - Day 5
Sai Praneeth in the Daihatsu Yonex Japan Open - Day 5

The future promises to be exciting for B Sai Praneeth, as the World No. 15 player is hoping to qualify for his first-ever Olympics. Straddling a slightly tricky spot in the Race to Tokyo rankings, Sai Praneeth's current 15th position needs to be maintained, if not bettered, for the Indian to successfully make it.

With the Olympic window for qualifying being extended until June 15, Sai Praneeth will have ample tournaments and opportunities ahead of him to consolidate his position for the mega event in Japan. To ensure that, the former World No. 10 needs to remain injury-free and considerably notch up his game and remain well-within the BWF top 16 players.

Seeking to redeem his lost chances of being able to represent his nation at the Olympics in earlier years, the 2019 World Championships bronze medalist is gearing up to make Tokyo happen.

Sai Praneeth's recent outings signify a potentially good future

Sai Praneeth in action
Sai Praneeth in action

Enjoying a decent form so far in the resumed BWF 2021 calendar, Sai Praneeth has been exhibiting a fine show of his skills with the racquet in recent tournaments. Although the 28-year-old Hyderabadi got off to a stunted start during the Thailand leg of BWF events in January, having to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19, he was quick to bounce back.

Powering into the 2021 Swiss Open, the first of the tournaments which got counted as an Olympic-qualifier, Sai Praneeth impressed with his performance, finishing as a quarter-finalist. Facing off against Lee Zii Jia in Basel, Praneeth fought hard against the rising Malaysian star before succumbing to a 14-21, 17-21 defeat.

Moving onto the All England Open in 2021, Praneeth was able to put up a good showing in the two matches he played in Birmingham as well. Clashing against the 22-year-old Toma Junior Popov in his opening match, Praneeth engaged in 54 minutes of intense badminton before progressing (21-18, 22-20) to the pre-quarters at the All England Open.

Facing World No. 2 Viktor Axelsen in his Round of 16 match match, Praneeth produced a thriller against the 2020 All England Open champion. Taking the Dane by shock, Praneeth bagged the first game pretty swiftly 15-21. However, Axelsen dug deep as he made a strong comeback to seal victory, 15-21, 21-12, 21-12.

Given all of these instances, Praneeth can be counted upon to better his performance, fix his game and stay focussed on the immediate future ahead. With a slew of important tournaments lined up next, Praneeth needs to give it his all in each of them to ensure his Tokyo dream comes true.

Sai Praneeth needs to up his game to safekeep his Olympic berth

Sai Praneeth will want to represent India in the Olympics
Sai Praneeth will want to represent India in the Olympics

Although the 2019 World Championships bronze medalist might be ranked World No. 15 currently, this is still not enough guarantee that the Indian shuttler can make it to Tokyo yet. With several Olympic-qualifying events awaiting ahead, beginning with the India Open Super 500 in May, the competition is only expected to get more intense.

There are way too many players who are crowding around Praneeth on the BWF ranking list, threatening to displace him from his No. 15 spot. In fact, former World No. 1 and Olympian, Kidambi Srikanth is also just one spot ahead of Praneeth on the list at No. 14.

However, with the rise of a fresh crop of talented players like Kenta Nishimoto of Japan, Lee Cheukyiu of Hong Kong, Kantaphon Wangcharoen of Thailand, and even our very own Lakshya Sen, it won't be very easy for Praneeth.

With only 2 spots available for every nation to send representatives from their country in a particular sporting category, the pressure is definitely on all the Indian male shuttlers currently within the top 20. For the 28-year-old Praneeth, therefore, the work cut out ahead is immense as he must not allow his form to drop at any cost. The tiniest of slips at this point could cost him his potential chance to make it to the biggest sporting extravaganza, and therefore he must be cautious going forward.

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Edited by Diptanil