Badminton has taken the cricket-crazy India by storm over the last couple of years, with a number of stars dazzling the fans with their performances on the court. While the likes of PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth have taken most of the silverware over the last year, one man, HS Prannoy has been quietly going about his business, doing some giant-killing in big tournaments, and rising up the BWF men’s singles rankings.
Currently standing at his career best raking of 11, India’s second highest ranked men’s singles shuttler Prannoy outshone his more celebrated compatriot Kidambi Srikanth, to win the 82nd National Championships. What made this win all the ore special for the 25-year-old, is the fact that this was the first time he won the tournament.
“The Nationals is an event which everyone would like to win. Its really special. The Nationals has got a different aura for me especially, as I’ve never won it before. This makes it all the more special for me,” Prannoy said, speaking to Sportskeeda. “On the international circuit, you’re playing so many tournaments in the year, but the Nationals come only once a year, so you have to grab that opportunity when you get it. That’s tough.”
The 2017 National championships drew a strong crowd in Nagpur, something that is rarely seen. While this was also due to the fact that some of the top shuttlers from the country were participating, Prannoy feels that such crowd support in domestic tournaments can only help the sport grow.
“What we saw yesterday was just fantastic. The entire tournament we had really good crowds. As a sport, it is really needed, because for badminton to grow, you need people to watch it,” said Prannoy.
On Wednesday, Prannoy faced an old foe, or rather friend, in the form of Srikanth in the final of the Nationals. The two have played each other numerous times on the international circuit, most recently, in the semifinals of the French Open Superseries, where Srikanth got the better of him by a 14-21, 21-19, 21-18 margin.
Prannoy exacted his revenge in the summit clash of the finals, defeating Srikanth 21-15, 16-21, 21-7, but he believes that the French Open semifinal was a much closer affair. He said, “We played 10 days back only, in the French Open, and that was even closer than yesterday. I had my chances in the French Open also, but I just slipped off. Again, Srikanth and I know each other’s game really well. It’s just about executing better, and whoever executes better on the day, they win.”
Despite this on-court rivalry, Prannoy revealed that Srikanth’s latest performances in the international circuit, where he became the first Indian and the fourth shuttler worldwide, to win four Superseries titles in a year, is something that has inspired many Indian shuttlers, including him.
“He’s in the form of his life. I just hope he goes on like this, and probably give the youngsters more motivation with his performances,” said Prannoy. “Not just the youngsters, but the guys like me, Sai (Praneeth), and Sameer (Verma) have got a lot of belief from his wins. If Srikanth can do it, why not us?
“He’s (Srikanth) been extraordinary. It’s not as easy as it looks,” continued Prannoy. “You have to be on the top of your game on all the six days in a Superseries tournament. To have that kind of consistency, making it to five Superseries finals is not an easy task at all.”
While Srikanth has been dazzling the world with his tremendous performances, there has been another young shuttler, who has been tipped to be the next big thing in Indian badminton – 16-year-old Lakshya Sen.
The teenaged shuttler made it all the way to the semifinal of the tournament, where he faced world no 2 Srikanth. Sen gave him a good fight, but eventually went down 21-16, 21-18. Prannoy has been impressed by the progress that Sen has made over the last couple of years.
“He (Lakshya Sen) has been playing well in the last couple of years. He’s really young, and he’s got a lot of years in front of him,” Prannoy said. “Probably in the next couple of years, if he can play a lot of international tournaments and get some good experience, I think he will be much better in the coming days.”
Up next on Prannoy’s list are the China and Hong Kong Open Superseries tournaments. The 25-year-old has been making it deep into the major events this year, and another good run can be expected from him. However, the 82nd National badminton champion stayed humble as ever, when asked about his targets for China and Hong Kong, saying that he will take the matches as they come.
Can he go one step further and clinch glory in the Far East? If his recent performances are any indication, HS Prannoy’s glory days on the international circuit may not be too far away.