India to be at full strength in Thailand; Sai Praneeth dreams of Olympic glory

B Sai Praneeth, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal will be part of the full-strength Indian badminton squad at the season-opening BWF events in Thailand in January.

By Naveen Peter ·

With the Badminton Association of India (BAI) announcing a full-strength team for the upcoming Super 1000 events in Thailand next month, India’s top-ranked shuttler among men, B Sai Praneeth is keen to make the most of the opportunities in the new year.

Speaking to the Olympic Channel shortly after BAI confirmed his participation for the two Thailand Opens and the BWF World Tour Finals, Sai Praneeth said that every event he competes in the new year will be focused on the Olympics. 

“Qualify for the Olympics and win a medal,” Sai Praneeth declared his plans for 2021.

“It’s been a very long time since I competed. I am pumped and looking forward to getting back to competing. I have been training for the past few months. But I have not competed. Being fit and being match fit are two different things. That's something I have in mind.”

Along with B Sai Praneeth, the Indian badminton squad includes Olympic medallists PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, doubles aces Ashwini Ponnappa, N Sikki Reddy, Chirag Shetty, Satiwiksairaj Rankireddy and former world No. 1 Srikanth Kidambi.

PV Sindhu will return to action at the Thailand Open in January.

Though Sai Praneeth came into the 2020 season on the back of some commendable performances -- a run that saw him break into the top 10 in the world -- he couldn’t carry the same form early in the year. He lost all the six matches he took part in before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the calendar.

Returning to the court after an eight-month-long break, the 28-year-old Sai Praneeth hopes to regain his form before the Tokyo Games in July next year. 

“That’s the target. But it remains to be seen how well can I get back to the level I was before the pandemic,” the Indian shuttler said. 

“There are no set expectations (for the first few events of the year) since this will be my first competition after a very long break… eight to 10 months is a very long time in badminton.

“I also need to keep in mind that not every time we will have many events to compete and get back to our top shape. The focus (in Thailand) will be to make the most of the opportunity. Yes, I am excited to play. The extra boost, the extra energy is always there. I hope that I can give my best.”

Given his world ranking (13), Sai Praneeth has all but qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. But the Indian shuttler has to ensure he continues his fine run into the new year.

“Yes, there are competitions coming up but we are still not sure which events will go ahead and how,” Sai Praneeth said. 

“The European events begin in March, our only hope is that the pandemic situation gets better by then and we can compete... But for now, the Olympics is the only focus.”

The Indian badminton squad for Thailand will also include singles foreign coaches Agus Dwi Santoso and Park Tae Sang and doubles coach Dwi Kristiawan along with four support staff members.