It had been a long, long wait for HS Prannoy to finally decrypt the Kento Momota puzzle – and it had to happen in the most dramatic way possible as HS Prannoy, in red-hot form, defeated the 2-time World Champion in front of his home crowd in Japan at the biggest stage of badminton possible – the BWF World Championships 2022.
Seven meetings prior to this with the second-seeded Kento Momota had left the unseeded HS Prannoy without any wins to his name save for a lone game he was able to win off the Japanese great way back in 2014 at the Yonex French Open.
So, naturally coming into the second-round clash against Kento Momota, in front of a roaring crowd wildly cheering for their once-golden boy, Prannoy had his apprehensions.
“Of course, I wasn’t expecting this win (laughs). The record was not so great with him (7-0, before this), so this wasn’t really an expected win. It’s always tough to play against someone who has competed at the highest level of badminton,” HS Prannoy, a smile lacing his face, tells in the BWF Mixed Zone after the win in 54 minutes, 21-17, 21-16.
Yet from the get-go of the match that Momota opened by serving was being dictated by the former World No. 8 Indian shuttler who is enjoying a great spell of badminton at 30.
At no point in the match did HS Prannoy looked visibly vulnerable in the match against Momota, who albeit in a little scratchy form, looked in danger from the start, making grave, un-Momota-like errors, that caused him frustration every now and then. But Prannoy was spotless and led gallantly, holding 5-point leads at certain junctures too and giving the 2-time former World Champion a literal run for his money.
“But then I knew I had my chances today. I had to be very disciplined against him. It was important to pace the game very well, which points to push and which points it’s okay to lose – strategy-wise, I was pretty much correct today,” Prannoy assessed after the second-round win that will now see him locked for a date with fellow Indian Lakshya Sen in the pre-quarters of the BWF World Championships.
With this win, Prannoy’s status as a giant slayer has further gotten cemented. So far, Prannoy has taken down the greats like Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Taufik Hidayat, Chen Long, Viktor Axelsen and now, Kento Momota also joined the list.
Badminton is a confidence game: HS Prannoy
Momota, who has been a 2-time World Champion has been struggling with his form ever since he is trying to script a comeback after a near-death accident experience he had in January 2020.
At the Tokyo Olympics as well, Momota had failed to impress and was seeking to make amends at the World Championships again being played on home soil – but HS Prannoy had to play spoiler to his plans.
“He’s not at his best. But a win is a win for me and playing one more round at a tournament is what I would like to do,” Prannoy admitted.
Speaking in the Mixed Zone, Momota was also upset with his performance.
“It’s not my opponent’s play. It’s just that I didn’t play well today,” a visibly crest-fallen Momota said.
“I think he (Momota) looks a bit more tentative,” Prannoy mentioned.
“There’s a lot of change in the way he’s been playing. Back then, the defence was much more solid. Probably now, people have started to read his game in a different way. But I think there has been a bit of difference in his game style, his movement and approach to the game – it’s changed quite a lot. That happens to each and every player out there. They have their phases.
“Probably he’s tentative, especially after the (accident) break. I’ve had tons of injuries and coming back after an injury you’re always tentative. And if you start losing in the first round, things become even more tough.
So there needs to be a constant graph, which is going up where you’re playing quarters, semis, and then things get back to normal. Otherwise, there’s always doubt, and badminton is a confidence game. Once you’re confident things start to fall in place and you don’t have to think twice about doing something,” Prannoy said, very supportively of the Japanese.
HS Prannoy, who was a quarterfinalist at the Worlds last edition as well, will be looking to repeat the feat as he is slated to meet another in-form Indian, Lakshya Sen, the 2021 WCH bronze medallist in the pre-quarters on 25th August.