Moments after HS Prannoy had given his blood and sweat into a physically-gruelling match against someone almost a decade younger and equally dangerously talented from India and won against him to enter the quarterfinals of the BWF World Championships 2022, could you see how much toll the match had taken on him.
“Body took a toll (from the match against Lakshya Sen). Already everything is paining. I’m wondering how I will play tomorrow but this feels good,” Prannoy had mentioned in the BWF Mixed Zone after defeating 2021 World Championships bronze medallist Lakshya Sen, 17-21, 21-16, 21-17 to set up a date with China’s Zhao Jun Peng in the last eight clash.
In other words, this was one more chance for Prannoy, like last year at the World’s as well where he reached this stage before losing to eventual World Champion, Loh Kean Yew, to correct the record and get that elusive medal – all that was required was just one more match win and at least, a bronze would be his.
Flash forward to the quarterfinals and the World No. 18 shuttler HS Prannoy, donning a blazing shade of red, the familiar focus back in his eyes, made a strong charging start against Zhao Jun Peng, plotting revenge in the back of his mind – for it was Jun Peng who had halted his medal chance at the Indonesia Open 2022 semi-finals in June.
Having enjoyed a rave good form for the majority of the last few months, HS Prannoy was raring to go – yet the toll from the intense matches against 2-time World Champion Kento Momota in the second round and then Lakshya in the third was obvious in Prannoy’s body – he knew what was needed for the occasion and the rare chance to medal to at the World Championships.
If anything, he is as deserving a candidate as it can get, boasting of a CV where he has beaten all the badminton greats – Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Taufik Hidayat, Anthony Ginting, Viktor Axelsen, Kento Momota, you name it, chances are HSP has probably already beaten then – so why not?
A tale of elusion and a whimper from The Beast
Yet it had to be an awkward slip of the left foot and fall that would perhaps change the course of the match for HS Prannoy as halfway through the opening game, HS Prannoy fell near the backcourt and groaned in pain as all of us immediately had flashbacks to the Thomas Cup semi-finals against Malaysia where Prannoy had hurt his foot in a do-or-die tie.
But Prannoy seemed to shrug off this fall just as quickly and got on with the match, his cross-courts with a sting landing perfectly but not before Zhao Jun Peng also began his covering-up on the board, causing pressure on the Prannoy serve. Yet by the end, it was HS Prannoy who clinched the first game, 19-21. Phew, Prannoy was one game away for an elusive World Championships medal – would today be the day, then?
However, the signs of struggle from Prannoy in that span was very vivid as the second game was a blink-and-you-miss rampage from the Chinese shuttler, ranked below Prannoy at World No. 23. With none of the things going right for HS Prannoy in the match-changing second game, things came unwinding soon for the former World No. 8 shuttler from India as he lost it 21-6.
But into the decider, a change of shade occurred from Prannoy once again thankfully who somehow found his form, making the deciding game a nervy one from both sides, no matter the winners that came easy from the Prannoy racquet and the seething smashes. Yet it was Zhao Jun Peng who stole the momentum after the mid-game break and things once again, slipped out of hands, looking dangerous with every point lost till Zhao won, 19-21, 21-6, 21-18, with Prannoy palpably close to having the win for himself.
“I guess the third game start was crucial. In first 11, I had to have a good lead but it became way to close for him to play freely from the better side. I could have played better from the start. He started to play better from second game and third game he moved quickly and got the shuttle high,” Prannoy says in the Mixed Zone, visibly crestfallen, at losing out on another opportunity – to exact revenge and to win a medal from the World’s – a feat most of his contemporary men’s shuttlers (Srikanth, Lakshya) already has.
For HS Prannoy, the pain of almost-winning must be the most bothering as despite being in such great form, podium finishes from all-important events continue to elude him. Even at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Prannoy was not in the squad because he didn’t meet the qualifying criteria – which in a way, did gift him with much-needed time away from the rigour of the hectic badminton schedule.
Unlike his contemporaries – Srikanth, Lakshya, Sindhu, Saina, even Praneeth – who all seem to have a World Championship medal common among them, Prannoy not being on the list despite being highly deserving is a thought that is eerie and unsettling, at best – but sports is this way.
For comparison, even the Minions – the duo of Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, two of the most legendary men’s doubles players the sport has seen, continue to lack a medal from either the Worlds or the Olympics, despite being at the top for quite some time now.
Sport works in funny ways and no one better than HS Prannoy, who has seen the highs and the lows, knows that. While this loss will hurt, not just him, but a sea of fans vociferously rooting for their ‘HSP! HSP! HSP’, one can hope that the podium will lure Prannoy soon and he can pick himself up just as soon and turn his ‘Beast Mode’ on.