For someone who was talented and untiring, H.S. Prannoy remained a fringe player for too long before emerging out of the shadows of the lead performers. He is now India’s biggest medal hope at the World championships this year and next year’s Paris Olympics.
At 31, Prannoy combines vast experience, skills and indefatigable attitude to put to shade even the younger opponents with his unbridled zeal and boyish enthusiasm to keep improving. He is in the form of his life and could shock the best at Copenhagen when the Worlds begin on August 21.
In a chat with Sportstar, Prannoy shared his thoughts on the game and the goals ahead.
Q: How has your campaign been on the international circuit?
A: Honestly, I am having a really good time. The Malaysian Open win was an important one and I am glad I have been consistent in the subsequent tournaments too, beating some top players.
Q: How significant is that triumph when you look ahead, particularly in the run-up to the Olympics?
A: The Malaysian Open win is definitely a big one as it started the Paris Olympics qualification cycle. It gave me a lot of confidence. I’m in a much better frame of mind and physically too. I hope to keep it going.
Q: What is the big difference you see in yourself now?
A: There is a lot of understanding in what needs to be done to come up with better displays. Like planning the training sessions and taking a critical look at the performances in the previous tournaments. I believe a lot of things are being put in the right place.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you are facing now given the reputation you have earned in the last one year after defeating the big guns easily on your day?
A: There is an intense fight within myself to be at my best. In a way, there is a challenge within myself, a serious introspection going on always, proving myself too. I repeat there has been greater focus on my game, fitness and mental aspect in the last three years. I do believe that experience is my strong point apart from understanding my body and dealing with the pain. I believe in the process even though the results might not be immediate.
Q: Is this the best phase of your career?
A: Probably yes. I never played in two 500 Super Series finals in one year. I hope to continue to perform consistently. Yes, I am putting in a lot of effort, thanks to my support staff who have been doing a great job for me at the back-end.
Q: Is there a feeling that you are slowly but surely inching towards realising any athlete’s dream of winning an Olympic medal?
A: I think it is too early to think of an Olympics medal. Maybe, I can answer this question six to eight months from now. But before that, there are many important events and I want to win more titles for sure. There are a few who have to work very hard to get them. I come in the second slot. Things don’t come that easily to me. I always have to work hard to get recognition. But, I am pretty satisfied with the way things are going now.
Q: What kind of planning are you into in the run-up to the Olympic Games given that you are now World No. 9?
A: Nothing specific. Take each tournament as it comes, prepare accordingly. Of course, we have to be very selective in playing some tournaments to peak at the right time. That is being taken care of by our support staff and Gopi [P. Gopichand] Sir. I am lucky to have such backing.
Q; Any areas of concern?
A: The effort is to keep improving and give my best.
Q: On current form, you are arguably the best medal hope for India in men’s singles. What does it mean?
A: It is nice to be the country’s No.1 player (men’s singles). This is the result of a lot of hard work. I feel breaking into the top-10 in the world is a very good achievement. I will try to better my previous best of No. 7 ranking.
Q: Are you feeling the pressure of expectations now?
A: They will be there always. Especially when you are having a good run. But, my focus is on consistency.
Q: After an impressive Asian and Australian circuit, you will be heading to the World Championships. How do you rate your chances?
A: The World championships will be slightly tougher. I have just competed in the Asian circuit and have had only two weeks’ time to prepare. So, the Worlds are going to be a different kind of challenge.
Q: As per the draw, you will be running into Viktor Axelsen in the quarterfinals. Having defeated him twice in recent times, how do you rate him and your chances of winning against him again?
A: It’s too early to talk about the likely face-off with Viktor. Before that I have to beat some real good players and then think of it. As I said, I will be taking any tournament match-by-match and not invite pressure by thinking too far and too much.
Q: If you are asked to name three defining moments of your career, what would they be?
A: The biggest will obviously be winning the Thomas Cup, which India has never won. The silver in the 2010 Youth Olympics was a huge moment before the Thomas Cup triumph. And, of course, the Malaysian Open triumph this May figures third in this list for obvious reasons.
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