Updated: December 14, 2021 7:29:30 pm
Autumn has arrived late at Huelva in December, and the Badminton World Championships is shedding seeded players like carotene leaves, tired after a draining season. India’s HS Prannoy accounted for No. 8 Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong, winning 13-21, 21-18, 21-19 in a stunning come-from-behind win in 71 minutes.
Simultaneously, it was Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, seeded 2, who lost 14-21, 21-9, 21-6 to Singaporean youngster Loh Kean Yew, ensuring a new World champion gets crowned this Sunday.
For Prannoy, the experience of his entire career was re-lived as he negotiated Round 1 against his Top-10 opponent.
Having had no chance to practise in the main hall prior to the actual matches, the start was “confusing.”
But it was in closing out the second game that Prannoy summoned all the years of feeling a dip in energy reserves suddenly and that ‘fight, not flight’ instinct kicked in as he began digging deep. “I just knew that even if I die by the end of it, I need to get the second game,” he told The Indian Express soon after his match.
The beginning had posed other challenges. “I just couldn’t get the right game going, because we got no practice sessions ahead of the matches in the main hall. Getting a judgement of when to lift was the issue,” he explained. Angus would race to win the opener 21-13.
One side of the court was clearly more comfortable. And on change of ends for the second, Prannoy would unfurl his big game to race to a 15-3 lead. It’s here that tiredness kicked in, as it often does in patches – like a marathoner at the 35km mark – at the elite level. It was in search of the second wind that Prannoy would be forced to reach for his heart’s core.
“I got tired and there were a coupla loose points. Then I got nervous,” he explains of skittling a 20-12 lead, at the threshold of closing it. There’s a reason why Angus is Top 10 – he clearly had amped his pace and was chomping at the lead like a bite of melting chocobar.
Keeping the shuttle in – that’s what Top 10s compulsively do – Angus would build pressure on the Indian who was grappling with frustration of not getting those easy points on the brink at 20. Angus’ retrieving would leash the man they call the backhand beast, before he finally managed to wrest the levelling game.
Into the decider. “I’ve played lots of matches in the last decade where you get tired in patches – mentally and physically. But you know that if you get through that phase, the next 8-9 points will be easy,” he says. “Somehow you manage to push the match into a decider, even if you are tired and dying.”
Prannoy has been at the receiving end of plenty of trolling on social media where ‘fans’ have mocked his approach at a point in time in a match, the ones he’s lost. It singes him often. “Critics will say I should’ve closed it at 15-3, but Ng is Top 10, he’s not going to just give in,” he explains.
In the third, he would find himself on the comfortable side of the court, and post-11th point, both players were tired, he describes. “I focused on one point at a time. And I really got going, my attacking worked and the net dribbles clicked,” he says about the crucial confidence at the net.
Angus, meanwhile, had fallen back on trying to prolong rallies sensing that would upset the Indian. “I was trying to cut them short and was happy to find the fitness to push the pace at that point,” Prannoy says of prevailing 21-19.
Axelsen’s going out takes out six of the top 10 seeds either from withdrawal or early ousters. It opens up an opportunity in the bottom half. Prannoy is cautious. One, the young Chinese are on the prowl – all four of them winning. And the Indian has his own opponents to down before thinking of the quarterfinals.
“Long way to go. One match at a time,” he says.
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