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How badminton ace HS Prannoy rebooted to soar again

So much of modern sport is about the highlight reel. Many fans don’t have the time to sit and watch an entire game, so they fall back on the curated highlights reel – the best moments, the best shots, the best points. It makes you feel like you haven’t missed out.

India's Prannoy HS hits a return against Denmark's Viktor Axelsen during their men's singles semifinal at the Indonesia Open Badminton tournament in Jakarta (AFP) PREMIUM
India’s Prannoy HS hits a return against Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen during their men’s singles semifinal at the Indonesia Open Badminton tournament in Jakarta (AFP)

But at the same time so much of sport is not about the highlight reel. Rather it is about the smaller moments – the set-up, the long rallies, the hustle, the points that seemingly don’t matter – and that is exactly what HS Prannoy is getting right these days. The things you often miss but the ones that no player can win without.

Prannoy, now India’s highest-ranked badminton player at world No.9, has always been the kind of player who could cause an upset or two early in a tournament. He’s always had that kind of game – power when he needs it, good movement, and net play too. But he rarely if ever managed to reproduce the same level of play in the later rounds.

For that to happen, he needed consistency – of stroke, of fitness, of mental strength. Often at the business end of a tournament, he would find himself abandoned by those very qualities.

After a phase just before the Tokyo Olympics when he seemed to be in free fall due to injury and poor form, Prannoy told himself that he didn’t just want to make up the numbers. He wanted to win. So, he decided to step back, take a breath and figure out how he wanted to play.

“I was not dejected when I didn’t go to Tokyo,” said Prannoy. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting myself to be there. But I knew I had to change things and I took the opportunity to do just that. I felt things were not working out. So, I went out and found people who could perhaps help me play to my potential. But first things first, I needed to wait for my body to heal. And then we put new processes in place – from a technical, fitness, diet and mental point of view. But just because I wanted change doesn’t mean it happened right away. It took some time, and I was prepared to wait.”

And the wait did him good. With the BWF World Championships coming up next (Aug 21-17), Prannoy has established himself as one of the in-form players on the circuit. In 2023, he has won the Malaysia Masters, reached the final at the Australian Open, the semi-finals at the Indonesia Open and the quarter-finals at Malaysia Open, Taipei Open and Japan Open.

Prannoy feels a change in his approach to training is helping. Many trainers recommend pushing yourself to the absolute limit while training but for the 31-year-old, this was leading to frequent breakdowns. So, he dialled things down a notch.

“I have stopped doing heavy, intense sessions. Now, I consistently hit 60-70% in my sessions rather than 100%. But whereas I would earlier lessen the load during tournaments, now I hit the practice courts with the same intensity every day. We tried a lot of things and found that this works for me. It may not work for others, but we are all unique so our approach to things has to be different too.”

The consistency of routine is helping Prannoy in other ways too.

“Playing at the top level is about mentality as well. In the past when I didn’t perform well, the next day I wouldn’t want to turn up for training. But now because I know that I am going to be training no matter what, I find myself to be more at ease. Being in a neutral zone is important. Happy if I win but regardless of whether I win or lose, I know what I am going to be doing the next day.”

Badminton these days is also dominated by talk of workload management. Of the 31 tournaments on the BWF World Tour circuit, the top 15 players in singles and the top 10 in doubles are required to participate in at least 12.

So, when you add Prannoy’s training switch and the BWF schedule, you have a player who is being put through quite the grind.

“It is definitely tiring. But do we have a choice? Not really,” said Prannoy. “This is where planning well comes into the picture. I have to plan well for the blocks when I am away from the circuit. Give the body time to rest and then push hard… go beyond a certain point.”

The manner in which Prannoy is planning for his opponents is different as well.

“I have now been on the circuit for 12-13 years and I realise adapting is the key, but one has to change with the times. Rather than have the same basic sessions before every match or tournament, I am now doing specific work according to the player I might play or the venue. This is something a lot of top players are doing.”

The one thing bringing it all together is his form. And there is no doubt that the deep runs are helping.

“The confidence that you get from tournaments is important. It tells you that the choices you are making are correct and it also allows you to understand the other top players. If you keep losing in the first round, you don’t know what is happening. But now I can say I have a good handle on 70-80% of the players – their styles and what makes them tick.

“I know that the top players kind of fear me. They know I can beat them and they know that if I get started, it won’t be easy. Earlier, I would beat the top players 3-4 times a year, but now I want to push that number to at least 10-12 times. Doing it every once in a while isn’t enough anymore.”

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