For HS Prannoy, there’s the small matter of winning on the big days. “I actually think he’s a big match player,” says Anup Sridhar, with whom Prannoy trained for 10 to 12 weeks before the Bali swing in fall 2021. The 29-year-old, world number 21, is not deterred by the big names, as all his scalps, Chen Long, Lin Dan, Chong Wei, Viktor Axelsen, reveal.
On Thursday at the Malaysian Super 750 it was world No. 4 Chou Tien Chen who he cleaned up 21-15, 21-7 – on the sidelines, coach Siyadatullah had a snivelling smile and later said: “He attacked so well from 11 – 7 in the second, Chou didn’t score a single point. It was actually the disadvantaged side, but his attack was excellent keeping the shuttle down.”
On Friday – and hopefully for the rest of the weekend – Prannoy will need to keep his head down and show up to dominate the big game days. The fact that he has yet to win a super title is both a millstone to contend with and a maze to navigate at the most enduring stage of his career. That Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen and Sai Praneeth have these titles and someone of arguably the same talent and skill does not raises the mystery.
“He thinks he can win,” says Anup, adding, “When Prannoy plays at his pace, he starts 50-50 against any top player. Nothing is missing.” Against Chou, Prannoy mastered the wild drift at the Axiata in Kuala Lumpur, where the shuttle is fast on one side and super slow on the other. Not letting the bird drift off the fast side – literally – and varying the pace to avoid being hauled back on a loop is the challenge. He hit good lengths to leave Chou clueless. “He needs to be a little more aggressive against Jonatan Christie. He’s showing aggression, but now he’s also playing smart,” says Siyadath.
World No. 8 Christie used to beat him for the Swiss title and some pieces of the puzzle can be gleaned from that period. “I would guess that 90 percent of the reason he doesn’t have the big title is physical, when his body is completely drained and his muscles are tiring. I don’t see a problem in his tactics,” Anup insists that the title breakthrough will be important if he is aiming for the top 10 or top 5.
End-of-business losses and displacements were invariably clear affairs, draining and fairly flat filings – suggesting energy reserves are being depleted over the week. Christie is no slouch and Prannoy will need to switch to top player mode to defeat the Indonesian. That said, pick a quick end if he wins the toss setting up for the second half of game three. Then, push the tempo early in the first set and go all out, even if it means a break in the second and a hard push in the third.
Anthony Ginting is a runner, Christie more of an all-round player, very smart and with a penchant for helping opponents into deep turns. Prannoy has the hard drive from the back corner of the hand to get out of trouble, but his forehand back corner judgment will be tested when the Swiss final is over.
In Bangalore, Anup was convinced that contrary to popular belief, Prannoy hadn’t lapsed into negativity ahead of his form in 2022, including the Thomas Cup high-pressure thrillers. “He got leaner and I saw a rhythm in his game where you feel like the whole court is covered,” he recalls. Via six-corner routines and 3v1 defence, Prannoy sharpened while Anup observed his reflexes quicken later in Hyderabad, strengthening his defense to support his attack.
Still, Finals Sundays weren’t as frequent as he’d like. “Unnecessary haste can be a trust issue. But he didn’t panic during the Thomas Cup, so I think it’s a matter of time,” he says. Siyadath must continue to dig that into his ears on Friday. “He’s been very consistent since the Swiss Open, but sometimes he rushes and mistakes happen. It’s very difficult to get a point out of Prannoy. Opponents only get points if they are wrong. If he attacks well and gets his length, he’s unstoppable,” he says. Breaking Christie’s defense will be key. Prannoy often needs to get a good feel for his own defense and rhythm will be key to get past the Indonesian, who leads 5-3 in his career.
Two of Prannoy’s 3 wins came from three setters, 23-21 and 21-19, and another long-draw match awaits. The anti-climax after the big wins has been a recurring theme for Prannoy since the 2017 season, which saw giants slain. The giant slayer must now hunt the great cause.