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Interview: I want to improve my fitness and go higher in the rankings, says Singapore Open winner B. Sai Praneeth

Sai Praneeth won the Singapore Open last week, beating compatriot Srikanth Kidambi.

Sai Praneeth (R) defeated fellow Indian Srikanth Kidambi (L) in the Singapore Open final 

Ace Indian shuttler Sai Praneeth clinched his first Super Series title, winning the Singapore Open with a nail-biting 55-minute triumph over fellow Indian Srikanth Kidambi in the final. While Sai was slightly jittery at the start, Srikanth cruised to an early lead in the first game, displaying his overhead sideline smashes and took the game, 21-17 in 19 minutes.

However, Sai responded well on going a game down and won the second game, 21-17. Sai’s dominant display of aggression, power and confidence helped him win the third game and the match, 17-21, 21-17, 21-12. He thus became the fourth Indian after Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Srikanth to win a Super Series event.

Also Read: Singapore Open showed that Indian badminton is going up, says champion Sai Praneeth

Earlier in 2016, Sai Praneeth had won the Canada Open Grand Prix men’s singles title, which was his maiden Grand Prix title. He was also the runner-up in the Syed Modi International Open Grand Prix which was held this year.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation with Sai:

You defeated the legend Lee Chong Wei last year, then in July, you went on to win your first Grand Prix title in Canada, now you have won your maiden Super Series title in Singapore. How do you think your game has improved/evolved over the period? How would you describe this journey since last year?

I have beaten many top players around the world but never won a tournament because of my inconsistency. I won against Lee Chong Wei but lost in the very next match. Beating top players gives confidence but if you lose in the very next round it again makes you fall.

But this year, after Syed Modi International, I injured my shoulder and had to skip all England and Swiss Open. So I had enough time to train and regain my fitness. I have trained for two months and I believe that has helped me in being fit. When I got my confidence back on my fitness, I knew I would play well.

Playing the final against a fellow Indian, with whom you have practised with numerous times, what was the pressure like? Moreover, you were down in the first set, how did you manage to make such a strong comeback?

It is always tough playing against a person with whom you practice almost every day. There was no pressure as such, but I knew how my game should be since it was the final. Yes, I lost in the first set and was down in the second set as well, but inside my mind, I was aware of the fact that something was going wrong.

I was hoping of getting back into rhythm. Later, as I was able to win points in the second game, I was able to play all my strokes perfectly on the court. Winning the second set was a huge confidence booster for me.

The crowd was very supportive in Singapore. How were you welcomed once you reached India?

Yes, in Singapore, there was a huge Indian crowd and they were very supportive. Their cheers really encouraged me to perform better. I think that had given me extra energy and confidence during my matches.

I got a good welcome here by my family members, friends and people from my academy (Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy). It was really wonderful to see how proud everyone was feeling about me. I have received an enormous amount of love, wishes and appreciation from people all over the country.

Asian players like the Chinese are considered much stronger in this sport, even the Europeans have evolved out as strong opponents. Do you use different techniques to play against the Chinese as compared to the Europeans?

Sai Praneeth won the Canada Open Grand Prix in 2016

The Chinese are always strong, even the other Asians from Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia are strong too. There are many good European players from Denmark, Germany and England as well.  

But now, even the Indians are beating the top players which prove that Indian men’s singles standard has gone up. There are almost five Indian players in the World top 30, including me. I don’t have any specific techniques against each one of them but I tend to concentrate more on my fitness.

Has the Premier Badminton League helped you improve your game? If yes, how?

Yes, definitely. It is a great source of exposure for us. We are teamed up with players from different nations, we get to interact with them and learn many new techniques and strategies. Playing against the top players of the world is always good to improve our game and speed. We discover many new things and it is always exciting.

What are your personal goals for the upcoming years? What are the areas of improvement you are focusing on?

I will have to work more on my fitness. I am World No. 22 now and I am really very happy about that. I would definitely want to go ahead in the rankings as well.

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