Giant-killer Prannoy upsets Momota, Lakshya next
After seven losses in as many meetings against the Japanese second seed, the world no 18 finally emerged triumphant
As the shuttle flew over Kento Momota’s head to land at the back of the court, pin-drop silence enveloped the packed Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Out there to witness the home hero breeze past his opponent and proceed towards a third World title, the spectators were left shellshocked.
Drenched in sweat but oozing confidence at the other end of the court, HS Prannoy calmly clenched his fist to signal the biggest upset of the 2022 World Championships yet and one of the most significant victories of his career.
After seven losses in as many meetings against the Japanese second seed, the world No 18 shuttler from Kerala finally prevailed 21-17, 21-16 in a 54-minute Round of 32 battle, that too in the world No 2’s backyard and at the biggest stage of them all.
With Wednesday’s loss, Japan’s Momota joined the likes of Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Chen Long, Viktor Axelsen—all of whom can stake a claim of being the GOAT and also being beaten by India’s ‘giant-killer’ Prannoy.
“Sometimes it (beating big players) happens (laughs). There was no plan. You can’t keep generic plans when you’re playing a two-time world champion. I had to keep thinking new things and just strategised as the match progressed. I kept my mind open. But I was pacing well and taking the initiative,” Prannoy said from Tokyo.
“My record is not great against him. It’s always tough to play against someone who has played at the highest level. But I knew I had my chances. I had to be very disciplined. It was really important to pace the game well and to know which points to push on and which points I could (afford to) lose. Strategy-wise, I was pretty much correct today.”
Seeing that the two-time world champion was being far too reactive, Prannoy started dictating the pace of the rallies. His shots showed that the world No 18 was full of confidence and in control of the contest. There were also some beautiful slices and half-smashes from the back of the court, which completely outfoxed Momota.
When Momota closed the gap from 5-10 to 14-15, the Indian responded well to halt the momentum of the Japanese and seize the next few points to take the first game in 27 minutes, never losing the lead.
Fighting the partisan crowd who were cheering for each point Momota won, Prannoy seized the initiative each time the Japanese star held back. A former world No 8, Prannoy was able to execute his forehand shots, especially the wide ones, and increased his number of smashes, creating some incredible angles in moments of magic that earned him multiple winners. With momentum in his favour, even his drops at the net were out of the reach of Momota, who is considered a master at the net.
The Indian even had multiple reviews going in his favour as well, resulting in disappointment for Momota with the despair clearly visible on his face. Too many errors from the vulnerable former world No 1 and a number of winners from an assertive Prannoy kept making the crowd become quieter as the contest inched towards a close.
“I was too scared of making errors and wasn’t aggressive. It wasn’t about my opponent’s game; it was my game that didn’t go well. My training isn’t that bad. I just have to bring my training into the tournament,” said Momota after the game.
Prannoy, though, is not over the moon.
“Beating Momota is good but I have only reached the pre-quarterfinals of the World Championships. There’s not much time to enjoy or dwell on the victory,” said Prannoy.
Roommate Lakshya next
Up next Prannoy will be up against compatriot Lakshya Sen, who downed Spain’s Luis Enrique Penalver 21-17, 21-10 in 36 minutes in their first ever match. Cheering for each other three months earlier during India’s victorious Thomas Cup campaign in Bangkok, the two friends will be facing each other for the third time this year with Lakshya holding the edge with a 2-1 head-to-head.
Incidentally, the two are also roommates in Tokyo. “Probably I will have to shift out tonight (laughs). It will be a tough one as he is in his best form right now and it is always difficult to play a fellow countryman. I will have to be alert, on top of my game and strategise accordingly,” concluded Prannoy.