Somewhere between frustratingly simple mistakes and zappingly complex winners lies B Sai Praneeth’s range of badminton play. He leads a roller-coaster existence: can flaunt a 5-2 record against India’s best men’s singles shuttler K Srikanth, and he can make heavy weather of beating Sameer Verma, wrong footed often by the latter’s patient rallies peppered with deception.
He has narrowly missed Commonwealth qualification by one rank, but remains the only Indian besides Srikanth to boast a Super Series title. He exasperates his fans, and Sai Praneeth gives bundles of ammunition to his critics to rip apart his attitude in losing from winning situations.
Thursday was just another day in the life of Sai Praneeth — he had to be restrained from self-destructing as he won 15-11, 15-12 against Parupalli Kashyap, to take Bengaluru Raptors to the knockouts against Chennai Smashers.
In the middle of all this, Praneeth remains mirthful - his glee unabated because now he has twice pulled off the ‘Rajnikanth shot’ in a live match, and social media has annointed his Thalaivar tricks. It was against World Champion Kento Momota last year, and at the PBL he piled on the misery of HS Prannoy with the Rajni special.
Here’s what he does to the general grand amusement of spectators: opponent taps deep, Praneeth bends across (his back to the net now), one step back, and sends the shuttle whooshing back cross-court. Sends it raving blind. And because it’s India’s sorcerer of sublime, the bird dutifully loops over the net. Anyone else attempting that stroke stands a 50/50 chance of dumping it into or even under the net.
Ofcourse, it doesn’t earn him spots at Olympics and other important places. It earns him the most exasperated reactions from coach Gopichand who is the closest witness to Praneeth’s talent wasting away in a pool of broken bones and tattered unfit muscle.
"He blanketly, blindly tells me even before a tournament starts that if my fitness is not upto scratch my game is useless," he says. "He’s told me clearly that if I’m fit I must be patient and play the rally because I’ll never get easy points in my life."
Their equation is based on brutal frankness, and on more than one occasion, the coach has let rip the "stupid boy" assessment out of frustration.
India’s men’s singles riches in varied styles are astounding, even if each one has contrived a way to lose, more annoying than the other. But Praneeth is the king of howlers.
"I don’t know what happens. I even tell myself when I have a good lead to focus on next two points," he says with hope. Third point onwards, Praneeth rolls downhill like animated blobs on cartoon network.
"Amongst Indians, I make most mistakes when leading," he admits sheepishly.
"I am 8-2 one moment, then I take those next two points. Then something happens, and it’s 10-8." It’s like a mic acting up halfway through a classical music concert."Sometimes it’s rhythm, sometimes 1 minute concentration lapse."
At this PBL, he turned the tables on Sameer Verma. He remembers two net chords and then suddenly staring down a 1-8 barrel. At change of court, he raced upto 6-8, and held on for once.
"I think I put him under pressure!" he says as if wisdom has suddenly dawned on him. He now knows what opponents feel, unable to believe their luck. There’s lesser drama if you ask us in a Rajni potboiler.