B Sai Praneeth became only the second Indian to win the Thailand Open when he beat Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie 17-21, 21-18, 21-19 in the final of the tournament. Praneeth comes from the same school of badminton which has produced gems like Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu for India in this sport – The Pullela Gopichand School.
The 22-year-old has won two back-to-back titles this year, first the Singapore Open in April where he beat his Indian counterpart Kidambi Srikanth to clinch the title and now the Thailand Open.
In an exclusive chat with Sportswallah, he discusses his badminton, what future holds for him and reveals his next target after tasting sweet success in the first half of the year.
What inspired you to take up badminton?
My aunt used to play badminton, she was a national badminton player. She is my aunt’s sister. Looking at her, my grandfather made me join the badminton academy. It all started from there. I think that’s where it all began.
Any badminton hero you looked up to?
At that age, there was no inspiration. I was just 8 years old when I started playing. There were no such inspirations but I loved when I started playing badminton.
What is that one special thing about your coach Pullela Gopichand? What change has he brought in you as a coach?
When I started playing, I started training under him. He always wanted to return something to the sport and I think the academy which he has with all world class facilities helped all the players who are here. He has played a big role in shaping the badminton careers of many players.
Back to back titles for you this year. Did you do any special training this year that you are yielding great results?
Nothing special as such. I trained hard. I took more care of my fitness and tried to work as hard as possible. I guess these things worked for me. I took the time to build my endurance. I think giving ample amount of time to do that has worked for me.
So many shuttlers are coming from Hyderabad which is a great sign. We’d like to know the secret behind this.
I think right from Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand)and before him also, there have been many badminton players who have come from Hyderabad and done well. There is an automatic connect with the sport when someone like Gopi sir does well in All England Championship. We are the first batch of the Gopi sir’s Academy – I, Saina, Sindhu and Kashyap. We all did well. We also practice with each other so it helps us develop for the big stage.
Any special plan for the World Championships coming next?
There is no special plan for the upcoming tournaments but I just want to be fitter. Before the World Championship, I will have five weeks to prepare and I believe it will be enough for me to get ready.
In 2012 Olympics, we have Saina winning the bronze, in 2016, we saw Sindhu coming very close to the gold. You are showing great signs and will be at your peak 3 years down the line in 2020 Tokyo. Are you targeting it from here?
Getting a medal in Olympics is a dream of any player. But the next Olympics is still 3 years away. Only one player will be selected from each country. Rankings will matter at that time and for that to happen I need to win more titles.