New Delhi: India will be fielding a young team at the prestigious Thomas Cup Final, but B Sai Praneeth believes they have the firepower to not only reach the knockout stage but also return with a medal.
India didn't make it to the knockout stage in the last three editions. The last time they played the quarterfinals was in 2010 at Malaysia.
However, world no 18 Praneeth believes this young Indian team can break that jinx when it competes in the tournament at Bangkok, starting on Sunday.
"Competition is tough. All teams are tough. If we could have gone with a full strength team with Srikanth and Satwik-Chirag, we had a very good chance of winning Thomas Cup this time. But even now we have a good young team and we can come back with a medal," Praneeth told PTI.
India have been clubbed with Australia, France and heavyweights China in Group A.
"The draw is okay this time. We have China and France in our group and we have to win against France to make it to the quarterfinals. Last two times we were seeded in 9/16, so we had to play two tough teams in the group but this time we are in top 8 so we have got a better draw to qualify for the quarterfinal," said Praneeth.
The 25-year-old from Hyderabad, who had clinched his maiden Super Series title at Singapore Open last year, said the team is focused on beating France on the opening day.
"So we have to surely beat France, they are not an easy team. Brice Leverdez and Lucas Corvee are good and we can't take them for granted. If we beat France we are through to quarterfinal and then we can sit and strategies and if we get a good team such as Indonesia or Korea, we have good chance in singles," he said.
World No 9 HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma and young Lakshya Sen will lead the challenge in the singles, while national champions doubles pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy and young combo Arjun MR and Ramchandran Shlok will have the responsibility of securing wins in doubles.
Praneeth said: "Prannoy has beaten Korea's Son Wan Ho, Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien Chen, so we have a good chance. But now the focus is to first reach the quarterfinals.
"We should win one doubles also. Manu and Sumeeth can win one of the matches. They reached the semifinals at Australia, so their confidence is also high. Arjun and Shlok also did well, they can be a surprise element."
Praneeth said the focus would be on winning the singles as under pressure anything is possible.
"Any team, China or Malaysia or Indonesia and Korea is equal to us since we have three good singles. If we can win the first singles, we will have our chances because it is a team event there would be pressure and top players also can lose their matches, so anything can happen," he said.
Praneeth, who reached the quarters and semifinals at New Zealand and Australia Open in the last two weeks, said he is happy with his game.
"I am happy with my performance. I played well. I could have won the two tournaments. I had enough time to train this time so I could play two back to back tournaments. Game-wise there was no problem. I could have won but I lost. I am okay, not worried about my game," he said.
Talking about his schedule ahead, he said: "There will be one month break after Thomas Cup and then there will be Indonesia and Malaysia in June last week. Then we have the World championship and Asian Games."
BWF will hold its AGM to decide the changes in its rules, which includes introducing a 11x5 point system and a new service rule.
Praneeth said whatever be the decision, shuttlers should be given enough time to get used to the new rules.
"Let's see how it goes. Everybody is prepared for the 11-point system but I hope people should have enough time to prepare for the format if they implement. Given the tough schedule, we will have no time to prepare for the new chance if they implement immediately," he said.
"BWF tried the service rule in German Open and All England. Now one umpire is giving fault, while other is not. So I don't know what will happen. I guess there is a need to properly educate the umpires or at least have a challenge option for the players at crucial times like video referral," he signed off.