A shuttler at the peak of his prowess is a joy to watch. His every movement and stroke look masterful and winning titles is the icing on the cake, a reward for skilful execution of a fine art.
An athlete's ability to inspire and create a sense of awe defines them. His ability to grab attention through excellence makes the athlete unique. Indonesian legend Taufik Hidayat did just that for Indian badminton players.
“For me, Taufik is one of the biggest idols in badminton,” HS Prannoy said in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
“I remember watching his games a lot when I was young and all through my junior years, I wanted to play like him.”
Memories from CDs
An Olympic gold medallist, a world champion, and two-time Asian Games gold medallist, Taufik Hidayat enjoyed quite a bit of success in his career.
The Indonesian was well-known for his iconic backhand and ability to cover every inch of the badminton court, which enabled him to recover most shuttles. Taufik Hidayat also had a style of play which was pleasing to the eye, a trait that drew HS Prannoy in.
“Taufik really made badminton look easy the way he played, I think he was able to project badminton as a fancy game without actually being flashy. He was really skilful and was able to deliver regularly,” noted Prannoy.
“To draw an analogy, I would say it was like watching Sachin Tendulkar play. Of course, the other players can bat really well but kids want to emulate Sachin because he has that unique style and aura about him.”
Growing up in the 1990s and 2000s meant that there was not as much television coverage of badminton in India as today, and HS Prannoy had to be patient and improvise when he wanted to watch Taufik Hidayat’s matches.
“I remember asking my dad to get match CDs from his friends and I had an uncle who lived abroad, he got tapes and CDs whenever he visited us. I used to watch the same match five or six times,” said Prannoy.
“So, all my early memories of Taufik are mostly replays and not live matches. I think social media has really made that process a lot easier now,” he chuckled.
Playing against Taufik Hidayat
While most sportspersons never get a chance to compete against a childhood hero – not many players enjoy a long career at the top – HS Prannoy was one of the luckier ones as he got to play Taufik Hidayat in a tournament as a 20-year-old.
HS Prannoy faced Taufik Hidayat in the second round at the 2013 India Open, a clash which the Indian badminton player won 26-24, 21-9. Prannoy progressed to the quarter-finals where he fell to eventual champion, the legendary Lee Chong Wei.
The competition may have ended early for HS Prannoy but playing, and defeating, his inspiration gave him the moment of a lifetime.
“That was a mind-blowing experience for me because when you grow up, you always want to play against your hero someday, but you never think it will actually happen. After the match, I wondered if it was all just a dream,” reminisced Prannoy.
“Of course, Taufik was close to retirement by then but I was just so glad I got to play against a legend like him.”
While Prannoy did not talk much with Taufik Hidayat after the match, the Indian shuttler impressed the Indonesian legend and has shared a few tips since.
“I think that is my biggest achievement – that players like Taufik, Lee Chong Wei, and Lin Dan remember me after I have played them,” stated Prannoy.
“It really motivates you to work harder and that little bit of recognition gives you the belief that you can do much better.”
HS Prannoy has always dealt with injuries and obstacles with immense grit and mental strength, bouncing back each time and he will have to draw on that inner belief this year.
The Indian badminton player is currently placed 30th on the ‘Race to Tokyo’ rankings – which determine the draw for the Tokyo Olympics – and will have to climb into the top-16 to gain direct entry to his maiden Olympics.