Tokyo Olympics: India Open postponement gives Sai Praneeth new life, focusses on “fitness” ahead of Tokyo 2021: Sai Praneeth is India’s lone shuttler who is in contention for direct qualification for the Tokyo Games, courtesy his ranking (13) in the race to Tokyo, Olympic qualification list.
After having a troubled start to the year in Bangkok, in the Yonex Thailand Open, where he was ousted in the Round of 32 to lower-ranked Kantaphon Wangcharoen, he could not even participate in the Thailand Open after he tested Covid-19 positive.
“I just wasted three weeks of my time without any fault of mine. Mentally it is also very taxing. In every tournament, you have to get Covid tested multiple times. The results are sometimes inaccurate,” stated Praneeth to the Olympic Channel.
After returning to India, he toiled hard and set his eyes on the subsequent competitions such as the Swiss Open and the prestigious All England Open. He put up a decent show in Basel as he reached the quarter-finals but once again in Britain at the All England Open, things took an ugly turn due to the Covid situation.
“We didn’t know whether they are going to allow us to play till the last moment. We were there in the room for three days and we straight away went for the match,” he said.
But Praneeth did not show any signs of rustiness. He brushed aside his opponent in the first round and then went up against Swiss wizard Viktor Axelsen. In the first set, he stunned the world No.2, 21-15 and in the second he raced ahead 5-0. However, fatigue started getting the better of the Indian which allowed Axelsen to recover lost ground and even go on to win the match.
“It was a bit of a fitness issue for me in All England. If everything had gone smoothly and I was in a better shape I could have played much better,” he said.
Taking lessons from his loss, Praneeth is focused to improve his fitness before travelling to Tokyo, as he thinks technically there’s not much difference between him and the best in the world.
“I don’t have many problems with my game but I must get fitter. The level of badminton will go up a couple of notches if I get more fit and remain fit consistently. It is not that I will surely beat them but definitely, I will have more chances to win against the top three,” he pointed.
Previously, Praneeth had shot down a few heavyweights like Lee Chong Wei, Li Junhui in his career. If the 28-year-old remains fit and get his tactics in place, a few upsets might be on the cards in Tokyo.