For B Sai Praneeth, practice yesterday was very different from training today. Until yesterday, Sai Praneeth did not know who his opponents could be for the Tokyo Olympics. But after Thursday’s draw, he has found out who his initial rivals will be in Tokyo.
World No. 15 Sai Praneeth has been drawn into Group D alongside World No. 29 Mark Caljouw of Netherlands and World No. 47 Misha Zilberman of Israel.
Sai Praneeth has never played against Dutch shuttler Mark Caljouw on the international circuit. Mark Caljouw is a good player and recently reached the semifinals of the All England Open Championships in March 2021.
The Dutch player had shocked India’s Lakshya Sen in three games to reach the semifinals. Caljouw beat Lakshya Sen 21-17, 16-21, 21-17 in the quarters in a match which lasted for 55 minutes.
However in the semis, sixth seed Lee Zii Jia of Malaysia halted the dream run of Mark Caljouw 21-13, 21-17 in the same competition.
Sai Praneeth has a 3-0 head-to-head record against his group opponent Misha Zilberman
Against Misha Zilberman, Sai Praneeth has a perfect 3-0 head-to-head record. He is expected to beat both his league opponents and top Group D.
However, Sai Praneeth is not taking his opponents lightly and is aiming to give his best in the tournament. This is what he said in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda
“Draw is good but I cannot take my opponents lightly. It’s not too easy, as in the Olympics everyone will be fit and I have to be 100 % ready to win the matches,” said Sai Praneeth after Friday’s practice session.
In the singles category, 42 players have been divided into 14 groups with each group consisting of three players. Only the top players from each group will qualify for the knockout stage. Badminton matches will begin on July 24 in Tokyo.
“Since only the group winners qualify for the knock-outs, I have to top the group to play the next phase of matches. Experts might be saying that it’s an easy draw for me but it’s not the case. It’s a mixed draw. I have to be 100 percent to win all matches and it will be a good battle for me,” said Sai Praneeth, World Championships bronze medalist.
Sai Praneeth became the first Indian male shuttler in 36 years to win a bronze medal at the BWF World Championships in 2019 after Prakash Padukone in 1983.
The Hyderabadi might have to face World No. 9 Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong, China in the Round of 16. If he gets past his Chinese opponent, 28-year-old Sai Praneeth may get a chance to square off against Japanese World No. 1 and two-time world champion Kento Momota in the quarterfinals.
Sai Praneeth, who was honored with the Arjuna Award in 2019, felt confident about his group opponents. Sai will face Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands for the first time in his career in Tokyo.
Four months ago, Sai Praneeth outclassed Misha Zilberman of Israel 21-11, 21-14 at the Swiss Open in Basel.
In 2018, Sai Praneeth recorded two wins against the Israel star. At the Australian Open, Sai Praneeth won 21-17, 21-14. Sai Praneeth’s first win against Misha came at the New Zealand Open where he won 21-11, 21-19.