Feature | Badminton

Sai Praneeth prioritises fitness as he aims to qualify for his first Olympics at Tokyo

India's 2019 World Championship bronze medallist hoping to clinch his maiden ticket to the Games. He also shares how coaching is crucial on that journey to the top.

By Sanjeev Palar ·

India’s badminton squad is predicted to do well at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

Sai Praneeth is one player who is tipped for success following his bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships.

However, the 28-year-old has been plagued by injury and shared exclusively with Olympic Channel how he intends to get back to his winning ways.

“I'll be working on my fitness. I think that is a main issue for me.” – Sai Praneeth

Sai Praneeth's plan to overcome fitness issues and clinch Olympic ticket

The badminton bronze medallist at the 2019 World Championships has used the...

Praneeth managed to break into the top ten of the men's world rankings at the end of 2019 but was unable to build on that following a string of injuries.

And like most of us, his life and training was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The national lockdown in India meant that Praneeth and other members of the India badminton team went almost six to seven months without proper training.

However, the 2017 Singapore Open winner opted to focus on the positives of the lockdown, and appreciated the long period of rest, which he had never had the chance of experiencing in his career.

"This pandemic gave a huge break, which I've [never] had before" - Sai Praneeth to Olympic Channel

He also told Olympic Channel that he discovered during the lockdown just how bad he was at cooking, and shared clips on social media of his training at home.

Coach Gopichand crucial to Sai Praneeth's rise

Praneeth trains under Pullela Gopichand, who participated at the Sydney 2000 Games.

Gopichand then went on to clinch the 2001 All England title and has been instrumental in India's badminton success. He coached Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu to Olympic bronze and silver respectively, and with Praneeth they reached another milestone, clinching India's first men's singles medal at the World Championships in 36 years.

Praneeth shared just how instrumental Gopichand was in his efforts to clinch bronze at the World Championships in Basel.

"At a very crucial time in the quarter-finals, he suggested that I do something. And I did it. Because I won that game, I could win a medal." - Sai Praneeth on coach Pullela Gopichand

Incidentally, the athletes training at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy will be featured in an upcoming Olympic Channel original series entitled "The Academy: Forging India's Badminton Champions".

The series is due to be released ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021. Keep following us on social media for more updates.

The Academy: Forging India's Badminton Champions - an original series coming soon to Olympic Channel 

After missing out on the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Praneeth is determined to make the cut for Tokyo 2020.

But he'll face still competition from within, with the likes of Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma, Parupali Kashyap, and Lakshya Sen to name a few, all eager to represent their nation in Japan.

A country can send two representatives if both are ranked within the top sixteen at the end of the Olympic qualification period, which is set to finish at the end of April 2021.

Praneeth is aware of the task at hand, and prefers to take it one step at a time as he gears up to qualify for the biggest competition of his career.

"I think every athlete wants to win a medal at the Olympics, even me. There's still a long way to go. We have many tournaments in between." - Sai Praneeth