Fifteen-year-old Sai Charan Koya caused a major scare at the senior inter-state mixed-team championships being held in Nagpur when he stretched Singapore Superseries champion B Sai Praneeth to three games on Thursday.
Playing the men’s singles rubber for his state Andhra Pradesh, Koya was resolute in his defence against a player who is 10 years senior to him. The teenager from Hyderabad won the first game 22-20, leaving Sai Praneeth, who was playing for the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board, with a lot to contemplate.
The world No 15 bounced back in the second game and won it rather easily, 21-9. Sai Charan, not one to give up, gave the 25-year-old a tough fight in the third game, coming back from 13-15 down to take a 17-15 lead. However, Sai Praneeth’s experience helped him to level the score 17-17 before going on to take the game 21-17, winning six straight points in the process.
Sai Charan was pleased with his performance after the match, given this was the first time he had played against a top player. “I was happy with my defence and net play, but could have done better in attack,” he said, adding that he needed to learn how to pace himself.
“I was leading 17-15 in the third game but anna (elder brother) played safe and I ended up committing errors while attacking. That’s what I need to work on,” he added.
Sai Charan has been training at the Bhaskar Babu Badminton Academy since he was 12, after taking up badminton just two years prior to that. “I started playing badminton when I was 10 because I wanted to increase my height and for overall fitness,” he said.
“I was very short as a child and I believe badminton has helped me grow in height,” added the 15-year-old, who currently is 172 centimetres tall.
Coach Babu, who has worked with players such as Saina Nehwal and P Kashyap, said that Sai Charan has been making steady progress since joining his academy three years ago. “He is very hard-working and always aims high,” Babu said. “He is never scared to take on players who are older or higher ranked than him.”
Sai Charan won the Andhra Pradesh Under-15 state championship and was ranked No 1 in the country in this age-group before moving on to Under-17s earlier this year. Since making the jump, he has won the India junior badminton championships in Hyderabad in May, finished third in the All-India Junior Ranking Badminton Tournament in Chennai in August, and is currently ranked sixth in this age-group in the country.
“He wasn’t able to practice very well for Nagpur because we are in the process of moving the academy to a new location,” said Babu. “If he had practiced enough, I’m sure he would have done even better,” Babu added.