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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Why hasn’t HS Prannoy won a Super title yet?

Anup Sridhar, a former Olympian, reckons it's due to fitness but believes the time is ripe now as Prannoy, who just blew away the No. 4 seed, is fitter, more aggressive, and cleverer.

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: July 1, 2022 8:08:55 am
HS Prannoy, Thomas Cup, Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, B Sai Praneeth, P V Sindhu, saina nehwal, Chirag Shetty , Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Ashwini Ponnappa, N Sikki Reddy, Paruppali KashyapIndia's HS Prannoy in action. (AP)

There is the small matter of winning on the big days, for HS Prannoy. “I actually believe he’s a big-match player,” insists Anup Sridhar, with whom Prannoy trained for 10-12 weeks in the 2021 autumn before the Bali swing. The 29-year-old, ranked 21 in the world, isn’t fazed 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, whom he cleaned up 21-15, 21-7 – courtside, coach Siyadatullah had a sniffling 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 disadvantage side, but his attack was excellent as he kept the shuttle down.”

On Friday – and the rest of the weekend hopefully – Prannoy will need to keep his head down, and turn up to own the big match days. That he hasn’t won a Super title yet, is both a millstone around the neck and a maze to negotiate in what has been the most consistent phase of his career. That Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen and Sai Praneeth have those titles, and someone with arguably equal talent and capability doesn’t, piques the mystery.

“He believes he can win,” Anup says, adding, “If Prannoy plays at his pace, he starts 50-50 against any top player. There’s nothing lacking.” Against Chou, Prannoy mastered the wild drift at the Axiata in Kuala Lumpur, where the shuttle is fast from one side and super slow from the other. Not letting the bird drift – literally – from the fast side, and varying the pace to not get retrieved on a loop is the challenge. He struck good lengths to leave Chou clueless. “He’ll need to be a little more aggressive against Jonatan Christie. He shows aggression, but now he plays clever too,” Siyadath says.

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World No 8 Christie beat him to the Swiss title earlier, and a few pieces of the puzzle can be gleaned from then. “I’d presume 90 percent of the reason for him not having the big title is physical if his body completely drains out and muscles tire. I don’t see any problem in his tactics,” Anup insists adding the title breakthrough will be important if he aspires to Top 10 or Top 5.

The losses and ousters at the business end have been invariably straight set affairs, deflating and quite plainly flat submissions – pointing to depleting energy reserves as the week wears on. Christie is no slouch, and Prannoy will need to get into the top players’ front-runner mode to overcome the Indonesian. That is, pick fast end if he wins the toss prepping for the second half of the third game. Then push the pace early in the opener and go all-out, even if it means a lull in the second and pushing hard in the third.

Anthony Ginting is a runner, Christie more of an all-round player, very canny and with a love for backing opponents into deep corners. Prannoy has the hard drive from the back hand back corner to get out of trouble, but his judgment on the forehand back corner will be tested if the Swiss final is to go by.

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At Bangalore, Anup was convinced that contrary to popular perception, Prannoy hadn’t lapsed into negativity before he struck form in 2022 including the Thomas Cup high-pressure thrillers. “He got leaner, and I saw rhythm in his game where you feel the entire court is covered,” he recalls. Over six-corner routines and 3-on-1 defense, Prannoy grew sharper, while Anup observed that at Hyderabad later, his reflexes got snappier bolstering his defense, to back his attack.

Yet, the Finals Sundays haven’t been as frequent as he’d like. “Unnecessary haste can be a confidence issue. But he didn’t panic during the Thomas Cup, so I think it’s a matter of time,” he says. It’s something Siyadath will have to keep drilling into his ears on Friday. “He’s been very consistent since the Swiss Open, but sometimes he rushes and errors happen. It’s very tough to get a point out of Prannoy. Opponents get points only if he errs. When he attacks well and gets his length, he’s unstoppable,” he says. Breaking Christie’s defense will be the key. Prannoy often needs to get a good feel of his own defense, and rhythm will be important to get past the Indonesian, who leads 5-3 in their career head to head.

Two of Prannoy’s 3 wins came from three setters, 23-21 and 21-19, and another long drawn match is to be expected. The anti-climax after the big wins has been a recurring theme for Prannoy, since the giant-killing 2017 season. The giant-slayer needs to now hunt the big occasion down.

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First published on: 01-07-2022 at 12:19:38 am

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