HS Prannoy gearing up for the Asian Games, by not preparing for it: ‘I find happiness in the process’

ByRohit Mundayur
Sep 19, 2023 05:12 PM IST

HS Prannoy is having the best year of his career and is arguably the leading medal contender in singles for India at the Asian Games.

The situation that HS Prannoy currently finds himself going into the Hangzhou Asian Games couldn't be more different from where he was in the runup to the Tokyo Olympics. Always seen as a talented player but someone who rarely makes big moves in the business end of tournaments, Prannoy had seemingly been in freefall before Tokyo 2020 and ended up not being part of the Indian team that travelled to the Olympics. Now though, he is the highest ranked Indian men's singles player on the tour and, with PV Sindhu's form falling off a cliff this year, the frontrunner to win a badminton singles medal at the Asian Games.

HS Prannoy beat two world champions, including World No.1 Viktor Axelsen, on his way to the Worlds bronze this year. (AFP)
HS Prannoy beat two world champions, including World No.1 Viktor Axelsen, on his way to the Worlds bronze this year. (AFP)

The 31-year-old didn't bring this change around by the amping up the hours he spends in the gym or on the court. Make no mistake, the amount of work players of Prannoy's level do in their training session is no mean feat but the World No.7 and his team have also made sure that his mind is also taken care of. This would mean that a day before he faced 2021 world champion Loh Kean Yew in the pre-quarter-finals of the 2023 World Championships, Prannoy went cycling in Copenhagen.

“We had that one day break between the second round and pre-quarters and we went cycling," Prannoy told Hindustan Times. “I didn't do any training, didn't even touch my racquet. Just went cycling with my trainer and coach. So it was very important to let go and stay mentally fresh to fight. Nothing is going to improve drastically physically during a tournament. That worked.”

It did, to say the least. Prannoy beat Loh 21-18, 15-21, 21-19 in an intense match that went on for an hour and nine minutes. The next day, he upstaged himself, beating reigning world and Olympic champion and World No.1 Viktor Axelsen 13-21, 21-15, 21-6 in a match that lasted an hour and eight minutes. It guaranteed him a medal and he ended up winning bronze, his world championship medal. That helped him go up to a career-best sixth in the world rankings. He also won the Malaysia Masters earlier this year and reached the final of the Australian Open, thus making 2023 the best year of his career. And it has come at the age of 31, which is when most players might start to be considered as past their prime.

For Prannoy, this year comes after a shift that he made in how he approaches both his physical and mental health, and working on the basis of the fact that they are both connected to each other. “Most of that we can do during training before or after a tournament. I think we have been very good with our planning. My trainer (Rohan George Mathew), the coaches Gopi bhaiyya (Pullela Gopichand) and Guru (Sai Dutt) and my phyisos have all been on the same page and know what's happening. They have been able to load systematically whenever there are no tournaments happenings. That is probably why I am able to last longer in a lot of matches and still come back the next day,” he said.

“Many of the pains come post a match only. It doesn't happen in training regardless of how intense it may be. Those kind of pains come after a tense match because there is a lot of emotions out there and that also adds up on the body. I have realised in my career of 12 years, there were a lot of niggles and tightness especially after a long matches. That is why we started to work on the upper hamstring area. It is a very small area that gets tight post long matches so we started working specifically on that part. These kinds of small pains may be different for different people. It depends how much the mental side of it gets involved in the game. That is how the body reacts. It is a little weird that you cannot replicate the same in training but it comes in tournament. If we do a targeted kind of training in strength and conditioning programmes then you can really get better on those fronts.”

On the mental front, Prannoy says that he has benefitted from a shift in the understanding of what his goals should really be. "Half of the things are trial and error in our careers. You learn from a lot of mistakes out there. In the initial days for me there was a lot of targeted work - you put a target in a certain tournament, work towards it and then when you don't hit the target you feel disappointed. Then you mess up the next couple of months also. I realised that this was happening to me quite a bit and so I thought I need to shift it the other way, try being a much more process-oriented person, find happiness in the process and keep the goals aside.

“I felt that it might be the solution for long term sustainability. I had that shift in the last 3-4 years. Now also if you ask me am I preparing for something, I'd say no. The preparation is for the next two years or three years. Am I preparing for Asian Games? No. The preparation is for how I can be healthy and move faster, hit harder over the next six months or one year. These kinds of things are the goals. In the last 3-4 years it has been very process-oriented work which is taking away any pressure from me. If I go and lose a tournament I am fine with it, I am good to go in the next couple of hours. That mentality is extremely required at this point of my career,” he said.

The Thomas Cup effect

Winning big titles amid this process-oriented approach always helps and Prannoy says that his historic success with the Indian team at the Thomas Cup last year gave a lot of validation to the things he was doing. “The Thomas Cup gave a lot of belief for me. I started to think that if this is possible, then a lot of things are possible. I had got a few good matches over there, real crunch matches that were a test for me mentally and I think I passed. It gave the steam going forward and all the work started falling in place post the Thomas Cup. So yes, I think that week was big for not just me but for badminton in our country. Probably we didn't have the belief of being able to do this for the last couple of years, we got that in us after that,” he said.

At the other big tournament he had played in the recent months, he found a sense of relief. Prannoy had said that he wasn't fully fit when in the lead up to the World Championships but he ended up winning his first medal in the prestigious competition. “Finally I had a World Championship medal. The previous two editions I went close, reached the quarter-finals but couldn't come back with a medal. I was very happy that I was on the podium and wish that my body was a little better on that semi-final day. Then maybe I could have played that big final but I think God always keeps something better for you at some point. You just need to keep working for it. Some day, something bigger will come,” he said.

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