HS Prannoy in action. (Getty Images)
HS Prannoy in action. (Getty Images)

Prannoy gets back to winning ways after a tough year

  • Often referred to as “giant-killer” for regularly beating top-5 players, Prannoy, the world No.28, was low confidence and without his winning touch when the pandemic shut down sporting activities.
By Sandip Sikdar, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 20, 2021 08:02 PM IST

Seven losses on the trot - including one in doubles, being stuck in hometown Thiruvananthapuram for months due to the pandemic, a bout of Covid-19 in November-December and entering competition in Thailand with barely any match practice; it has been one tough year for shuttler HS Prannoy.

And yet when the chips were down, the former world No.8 delivered a memorable win by saving three match points to upset Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie in the most unexpected of Wednesday’s results at the $1 million Toyota Thailand Open.

Prannoy entered the second round of the Super 1000 tournament by edging past the Indonesian sixth seed 18-21, 21-16, 23-21 in a marathon contest that lasted an hour and 15 minutes at the Impact Arena. “I’m proud of my win today,” Prannoy said from Bangkok. “I don’t know what to say. It was a tough situation but happy with the win, especially since it was the first round.”

It was in January 2020 that the 28-year-old had last won a match. Since then he had gone down in seven consecutive matches - including last week at the same venue - with all but one being in opening rounds.

Often referred to as “giant-killer” for regularly beating top-5 players, the world No.28 was low confidence and without his winning touch when the pandemic shut down sporting activities. Stuck in Kerala for several months, Prannoy trained at the mercy of the government as regular lockdowns meant shut down of stadiums, thereby restricting on-court time.

Whatever little time he got, Prannoy trained with the local players before finally making his way to Hyderabad on November 20 to join the national camp, just in time to prepare for the calendar restarting Thailand leg of the World Tour.

However, he tested positive for Covid-19 on November 29, putting him out of action for 17 days, ruining his hopes of preparing for the Yonex Thailand Open, held last week. To make matters worse, he also developed post-Covid complications.

“Post Covid I have had some pain in the ribs. I had been continuously coughing for 16-17 days during Covid. This extensive cough got the muscles inflamed which hurt the ribs,” Prannoy said after his third win over Christie in six outings, having lost the last three.

After recovery, Prannoy was finally able to join training on December 16 but doctors advised him to take things slowly, forcing him to train for a mere 30-40 minutes daily. “Initially I wasn’t training with the main group. The idea was not to take load, to build on gradually, come here and improve during the course of the tournament,” he said.

But despite the precautions, the rib pain affected him while facing Lee Zii Jia last week. And notwithstanding the first game lead, he went down to the Malaysian in the first round.

“The pain flared up and stopped me from playing longer rallies. It was not at all comfortable and happened all of a sudden when I was not able to play,” said Prannoy, who was advised by the doctors to not train for the next 4-5 days, once again ruling out any sort of preparation for this week’s Toyota Thailand Open.

“The pain is not continuous. It starts when I start breathing heavily, restricting my full flow, and takes time to settle down which makes things difficult. For example, if it’s 16-all in the third game, it becomes tough to push so I have to be careful on which points to push.”

With nothing to lose on Wednesday, Prannoy decided to just hang in there and keep the shuttle in play. “I stopped planning and thought let’s just play and enjoy the match. I just decided to play my natural game,” added Prannoy, who will next take on seasoned Malaysian Daren Liew in the second round against whom the Indian has a 3-2 record.

Liew progressed to the second round after getting a walkover from B Sai Praneeth, who pulled out after testing positive for Covid-19. Asymptomatic, Sai tested positive after five negative tests in Thailand. “I don’t know what happened,” he said from Bangkok. “There was no breach of protocol. I have just been staying in the room, going to the gym or practice and returning. Everyone, even the security, is in a bubble so I am surprised that I tested positive.”

Former world No.1 Kidambi Srikanth was also forced to withdraw as he was sharing the hotel room with Sai.

Earlier in the day, MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila beat New Zealand pairing of Oliver Leydon-Davis and Abhinav Manota 23-21, 21-17 in 37 minutes to advance to the men’s doubles second round.

However, it was the end of the road for Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy who lost their women’s doubles opener 11-21, 19-21 to Germans Linda Efler and Isabel Herttrich in 37 minutes. Reddy returned to the court a little later with husband B Sumeeth Reddy but the duo too went down 14-21, 21-18, 13-21 in 55 minutes to Malaysian pairing of Hoo Pang Ron and Cheah Yee See.

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This handout from the Badminton Association of Thailand taken and released on January 19, 2021 shows India's Pusarla V. Sindhu hitting a shot against Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan during their women's singles first round match at the Toyota Thailand Open badminton tournament in Bangkok. (Photo by Handout / BADMINTON ASSOCIATION OF THAILAND / AFP) / -----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / BADMINTON ASSOCIATION OF THAILAND " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS(AFP)
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