Sai Praneeth rallies to down Srikanth, wins maiden super series title

In the women’s final, World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying maintained her supremacy by taming the World and Olympic champion Carolina Marin 21-15, 21-15

Sai Praneeth of India reacts after beating compatriot Srikanth Kidambi to win the men's single finals of the Singapore Open.   -  AFP

In what could well turn out to be the turning point in a promising career, B. Sai Praneeth seized the moment and made it count.

Playing his maiden super series final for the Singapore Open title, Sai bounced back strongly to beat his sparring partner K. Srikanth in a historic all-India final for a first major international title on Sunday.

In a contest lasting 54 minutes, Sai prevailed 17-21, 21-17, 21-12 to maintain his supremacy over Srikanth, ranked a place higher at 29. In fact, this was Sai’s fifth victory over Srikanth in six meetings.

Later, both players stood on the podium with the National flags loosely resting on their shoulders. Sai received $26,250 and Srikanth, $13,300.

Sai, who has not won even a Grand Prix title, became only the second Indian to win a super series men’s singles crown. This also resulted in Srikanth losing his first super series final in three appearances. The former World No. 3 won the China Open in 2014 and the India Open in 2015.

On this day, Srikanth raised hopes of winning a third title before a resurgent Sai turned the match on its head.

Down by a game and trailing 2-7 in the second, Sai found a way to check Srikanth’s aggression that had played a crucial role in deciding the opening game. Though both players know each other’s game very well, there were times when Sai managed to catch Srikanth on the wrong foot.

Sai managed to make it 7-7 and thereafter continued to ride on confidence. After the game progressed neck-and-neck, Srikanth made it 15-16 but Sai did not allow him any more liberties and sent the match into the decider.

Srikanth, looking increasingly disappointed with his own display, continued to give away points owing to poor execution in the face of some sustained pressure from Sai. Once Sai opened a 10-3 lead and held an 11-5 advantage at the mid-game interval, he looked well on course.

Sai increased the lead to 16-8 and after some last-ditch resistance from Srikanth, won when the latter’s down-the-line forehand smash found the middle of the tram-lines.

This title was all the more incredible for Sai if one were to look at the manner in which it came about. Known to lack the fitness levels of some of his peers at the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad, Sai is slowly showing signs of lasting the after-affects of three-game battles.

This week, Sai was required to play three games in his first three matches. He showed superb recovery in racing away with 21-6, 21-8 victory in the semifinals. Even against Srikanth, Sai was willing to battle all the way and it was his never-say-die spirit that stood rewarded.

Not many are aware that Sai upset the former World and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat in the first round of the 2013 Indonesia Open 21-15, 12-21, 21-17 and the current World No.1 Lee Chong Wei in the first round of the 2016 All England championship 24-22, 22-20. Earlier this month, Sai came close to beating another former World and Olympic champion Lin Dan, the eventual winner of the Malaysia Open.

Meanwhile, in the women’s final, World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying maintained her supremacy by taming the World and Olympic champion Carolina Marin 21-15, 21-15. This was Tai’s 25th successive victory, spread over five months, and earned her a fifth straight title.