Prannoy, Praneeth march into pre-quarters of World Championships
Around two weeks back, HS Prannoy was preparing to take part in the Hyderabad Open. Having not qualified for the World Championships, the shuttler from Kerala was gearing up for other tournaments on the World Tour.
A bit of luck changed those plans—former world champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and current world No 3 Shi Yuqi of China pulled out of the August 19-25 tournament in Basel, forcing the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to send a late invite to the 27-year-old Indian.
Prannoy made it count, and how. In the second round of the men’s singles on Tuesday, he took down five-time world champion Lin Dan of China.
The Indian took a little more than an hour to dispose the 11th seeded Chinese 21-11, 13-21, 21-7 to notch his third victory in five meetings against the two-time Olympic champion. Prannoy’s victory also brought about Lin Dan’s earliest exit from the World Championships.
“It (the invite) came out of the blue,” Prannoy said over the phone after the win. “I had been playing many tournaments in the last month or two. Had I known I would be playing the World Championships I wouldn’t have been playing all these events.”
Prannoy’s results haven’t been great of late, losing in the initial rounds of tournaments. This and the sudden call-up for the Worlds prompted the shuttler to bring about some urgent changes to his game.
“Earlier we were concentrating a lot on endurance but decided to change that,” he said. “It was playing under continuous pressure that I needed to work upon. The last couple of months I had been having trouble losing early in the tournaments. With pressure endurance comes naturally. So after discussing with Gopi sir and the other coaches, changes were made to my training programme where I was training under a lot of pressure.”
After getting demolished in the first game, the Chinese great began to control the pace of the bird.
“He started playing really well. I tried to open up the game deliberately by going for unconventional areas, to take chances but he was following it up really well, especially at the net and the second game slipped out of my hand,” said Prannoy.
But the Indian turned the tables in the decider by winning 21 of the 28 points. The world No 30 increased the pace, shortened the rallies and took the game out of Dan’s comfort zone.
“I shut down his chances. I made sure he was behind the shuttle all the time and not under it. I was discussing the game with Gopi sir and Park (Tae Sang) who told me the patches where I need to play, that really helped as I was quickly able to apply it,” Prannoy said.
“I used the speed left in my tank. He (Dan) is someone who likes to slow the game down and thereby controls the pace. I thought ‘let me play quick.’”
The unseeded Indian has also been unhappy of late. Being overlooked for the Arjuna award, especially since his friend B Sai Praneeth was nominated for it, has left Prannoy frustrated. The Pullela Gopichand protégé is now trying to channel that frustration onto the court to prove a point.
“I wanted to prove myself to everyone that I am good enough. It was natural for me to be upset,” he said. “Probably it (the announcement) came at the wrong time and probably my tweet was a little harsh but it was important to let people know who don’t know what’s happening,” said Prannoy referring to a tweet in which he revealed his displeasure after the Arjuna snub.
“If you go according to the norms I deserved to win the award. But now I will make my racquet do the talking.”
Though past Lin Dan, an even tougher challenge awaits Prannoy on Thursday as he will face defending champion and top seed Kento Momota in the third round. In the four meetings against the world No 1 till date, Prannoy has only managed to take one game—let alone a victory—and knows that he will have to play out of his skin to move ahead. “I will have to shift gears to push him,” said Prannoy.
Sai Praneeth progresses
Later on the same court, Sai Praneeth also moved into the third round with a 56-minute 21-16, 21-15 victory against South Korean Lee Dong Keun.
Women’s doubles pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy got a walkover after Chinese Taipei combine of Chang Ching Hui and Yang Ching Tun pulled out.
Ashwini and Sikki will next play Chinese seventh seeds Du Yue and Li Yin Hui in the second round on Wednesday.
Men’s doubles combo of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy also won their opener after beating Frenchmen Thom Gicquel and Ronan Labar 21-13, 21-13 in 26 minutes and will take on Chinese sixth seeds Han Cheng Kai and Zhou Hao Dong next.
But it was curtains for India’s men’s doubles pair Arun George and Sanyam Shukla, women’s doubles combine Pooja Dandu and Sanjana Santosh, as well as men’s singles 10th seed Sameer Verma, who lost to Loh Kean Yew of Singapore.