Former world championships bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth showed nerves of steel to outwit in-form HS Prannoy in a thrilling three-setter as Telangana blanked Kerala 3-0 to win the coveted mixed team badminton gold at the National Games 2022 on Monday. (More Badminton News)
Enduring a dip in form for over a year now, Tokyo Olympian Praneeth finally had something to cheer about as he dug deep into his reservoir to see off Kerala's top shuttler Prannoy 18-21, 21-16, 22-20 to give Telangana a 2-0 lead.
His victory came on the heels of another brilliant show by the husband-and-wife duo of B Sumeeth Reddy and N Sikki Reddy, who got the better of the youthful pair of MR Arjun and Treesa Jolly 21-15, 14-21, 21-14 in a thrilling battle.
In the women's singles, Samiya Farooqui beat TR Gowrikrishna 21-5, 21-12 to seal the win for Telangana.
Telangana's decision to field the experienced Sumeeth and Sikki in the opening mixed doubles match ahead of Vishnuvardhan Goud and Gayatri Gopichand, who had lost against Maharashtra, paid dividends as they put the team ahead.
“We only gave the coach the option of trying us out,” Sumeeth said, even though they had last played together way back in the 2021 Thailand Open. The couple fumbled at the start as the speedy Arjun and Treesa jumped into an early 5-2 lead.
“We were playing after a long time. We don't even practice together as we quite often get into arguments. It took some time to get into a rhythm. But once we found our groove, we got into a good rhythm,” said a smiling Sikki.
The Kerala pair, however, fought back to win the second game, with Arjun sending powerful smashes from the backline and Treesa being efficient at the net. The third game went close till 12-all before a change of strategy did the trick for Telangana.
“I think the turning point was when I went for variations in my service, not giving them any length,” Sikki explained.
The next match was crucial with Prannoy, who is currently ranked 15th in the world and is enjoying a dream season, starting as the favourite against Praneeth, whose BWF world ranking has slipped to 40 due to his poor form.
“I knew it would be a tough match, especially as we know each other’s game as we often train together. But gradually I found my strokes,” said 2017 Singapore Open champion Praneeth.
The first game was played fiercely. A tentative Praneeth made a few unforced errors while Prannoy looked good with his all-round game. They went neck-and-neck till 18-18 before Prannoy clinched it with a couple of well measured shots.
Praneeth was in full flow in the second game, with his repertoire of strokes catching Prannoy on the wrong foot. He surged ahead 13-7 and held on to it to make it 1-1. In the third game, Praneeth built a healthy lead of 13-7 before Prannoy clawed his way back to make it 18-18 all.
“I was suddenly blank as Prannoy began to play a fast game. With the shuttle also coming off slowly, I was little taken back. But luckily, I held on to my nerves and pulled off this crucial win. It will boost my morale,” Praneeth said.