Kolkata: Prannoy HS, the soft-spoken Indian badminton star from Thiruvananthapuram, had been playing meaty supporting roles in the sport’s journey to being one of the most exciting disciplines in the country for nearly a decade now. However, he turned the unlikely hero in India’s back-to-back sensational wins in the quarter final and semi-final of Thomas Cup on the last two days in Bangkok - which assured them of their first-ever medal and now a shot at gold medal.
For the badminton afficionados, making the men’s final of the team event is almost an equivalent of the prestigeous Davis Cup of tennis and Prannoy summoned all resolve, not to speak of playing through pain in the semi-finals, to win the deciding singles against superpowers Malaysia (quarters) and Denmark (semi-finals) on Thursday-Friday. The final on Sunday pits them against 14-time winners Indonesia, but the self-belief the squad mustered over the last two evenings at the Impact Arena - as the venue is known - will certainly egg them on to give it their best.
“I am so happy. Super proud of our team. This without doubt is historic and one of the biggest moment for Indian badminton. We will surely do well against Indonesia despite the pedigree they hold,’’ Prannoy told the media after rallying to hold off Dane Remus Gemke 13-21, 21-9 and 21-12 to seal the tie 3-2 in India’s favour. This, barely 24 hours after outlasting Leong Jun Hao of Malaysia, five-time champions, in the quarters to clinch another 3-2 verdict for his country.
In an extraordinary display of team effort where former world No.1 Kidambi Srikkanth, the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty stood out, Prannoy was still exceptional. Just before the decider against Gremke, he had twisted his right angle - but revealed later that he was ready to go for broke.
‘‘I wasn’t sure of what movement I could do and what I couldn’t do. It felt like it was all going downhill, but I thought I shouldn’t give up, let me just see how it goes. I was hoping it wouldn’t get aggravated. The pain started reducing towards the end of the second game, and in the third game I was feeling much better.”, he told BWF Website.
“More than physical, it was a mental game. I just couldn’t afford to lose the focus. I was thinking a lot on court but I have done a lot of mental training over the last six months, and all of that worked today. I was extremely focussed, and this is what I’ve been working for, to be in the zone.”
Born on July 17, 1992, Prannoy first broke through way back in 2013 and has seen a number of ups and down in his career. There were the odd flashes of brilliance when in the 2017 Indonesian Open, he defeated the reigning Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei and the reigning Olympic champion Chen Long in consecutive matches but then went down in the semi-final.
In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Prannoy came close to what would have been his first medal in a multi-discipline Games, but he finished fourth after being beaten by Rajiv Ouseph of England in the bronze play-off. He then won a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Championships.
Last year, Prannoy was off to a disastrous start on the road after exiting in the early rounds of the 2021 Swiss Open and the 2021 All England Open - while lack of sponsors also posed a question mark for the career of the 29-year-old who now trains at the the Pulella Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad. However, he came back strongly after defeating reigning Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the second round of the 2021 Indonesia Masters in November.
The 2021 BWF World Championships in December, where Srikkanth and Lakshya Sen had podium finishes, Prannoy upset world no. 9 Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong in the first round and Gemke in the pre-quarter finals. However, he lost to the eventual world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore in the quarter finals.
It will be worth watching if Prannoy can now convert his personal disappointments into a moment of team glory on Sunday!