Feature

My Greatest Game: When HS Prannoy stunned Olympic champion Chen Long

Having lost to the Chinese great thrice before, HS Prannoy went into the 2017 Indonesia Open match as a rank outsider but then the unexpected happened.

By Naveen Peter and Subhayan Dutta ·

HS Prannoy carries the moniker of being a giant-killer. He might not have won a Super Series title yet, but the Kerala lad has accounted for most of the top international shuttlers in his career so far.

Be it the prolific Lee Chong Wei, the unbeatable Lin Dan, the former top-ranked Dane Jan Ø Jørgensen or his idol Taufik Hidayat, HS Prannoy has aced them all. 

From this illustrious list, it’s his win over Olympic champion Chen Long in the quarter-finals of the 2017 Indonesia Open that HS Prannoy considers his greatest win.

It’s not just because it was his first win over the imposing Chinese in four attempts or that it helped him make the semi-finals of a Super Series Premier competition for the first time. The reason, Prannoy says, has got more to do with the way he viewed himself.

“To win against him (Chen Long) in Indonesia did a world of good. It took an immense amount of pressure off me,” HS Prannoy told the Olympic Channel.

“You know, when such things happen it gives you the confidence to go for the next one. You start to believe in yourself more. You are confident that you can beat anyone in the world. I feel that win gave me a lot of confidence and insights on who I was.”

From out of form to in the zone

Coming into the Indonesia Open, Prannoy had struggled for form. Though he showed his quality in spurts that season, the Indian badminton player couldn’t carry his run for long, often losing in the early rounds. Add to that the tough draw that he was handed, it looked like HS Prannoy’s fate was already sealed.

But against all odds, HS Prannoy accounted for the fast-rising Anthony Ginting of Indonesia in the opening round and then registered the upset of the competition with a straight games win over Malaysian superstar Lee Chong Wei.

Despite such quality performances, the former Youth Olympic silver medallist says he didn’t back himself to do well against Chen Long. “Going into the match, I had no expectations. I had never beaten him before,” HS Prannoy recalled.

“There’s always a mental block that's running inside you when you play an opponent like that, someone who you have never beaten despite playing three times. I always used to think that he’s a very tough opponent.”

Known for his retrieving prowess, beating Chen Long at his peak was never an easy job.

The two had previously met at the India Open in 2014 and at the Singapore Open and China Masters in 2016. Chen Long won all three, emerging victorious in straight games in two of them.

So what worked for HS Prannoy that day in Jakarta? 

“I don't think anything changed. The only thing that I remember is that I was in my zone,” the Indian said. 

“It doesn't happen that often. But when it does, I don't realise the result. Quite often, we are chasing a result. Stuff like, I need to have the lead at the break, can't be giving away so many points and things like that. But when you don't have such goals, you are free and just follow the shuttle. That day I was in that kind of a mindset.”

All about staying in it for HS Prannoy

Known for his defensive abilities and retrieving skills, beating Chen Long needed something special. And for HS Prannoy it started by training his mind.

“I think someone like Chen Long loves to be defensive. I see that as the biggest mental barrier for someone who's attacking. Because you know, this fellow is going to return anything and everything you throw at him,” Prannoy said. 

All HS Prannoy wanted to do was to stay in the competition for as long as he could. He won 21-18, 16-21, 21-19 -- each of the three games a tight affair.

“There was no aim, or a motive to score a point against a player like him. My only aim was to play longer. The only thing I was telling myself was that I had to finish the game. I wanted it to go longer and longer. I just wanted to stay in it,” Prannoy said.

Looking back, HS Prannoy believes that not worrying about the scoreboard did more good than harm. The Indian shuttler started enjoying his game, he glided on the court, came up with some cheeky drop shots that caught everyone by surprise and finished off the points with his powerful jump smashes that left Chen Long gasping for breath. 

“I kept reminding myself that I shouldn't expect to win against this man. All I wanted to do was play better than what I did the last time we faced. That resulted in better strokes, a better reading of the game and so on. I was never looking for a win, it just happened,” he remembered.