In seven meetings yet, HS Prannoy has never beaten two-time world champion Kento Momota. The statistic is slightly surprising given how Prannoy has earned the tag of “giant killer” with momentous victories over greats like Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Chen Long, Viktor Axelsen to name a few.
After a 21-12, 21-11 cakewalk past Austrian Luka Wraber in the opening round of the BWF World Championships on Monday, Prannoy has set up yet another clash against the second seeded Japanese, who will be backed by a partisan crowd at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Wednesday.
But the world No 18 isn’t too worried. After playing for more than a decade on tour, going through ups and down, injuries and recoveries, the 30-year-old has stopped being over critical about losses and is enjoying the process rather than focus only on results—something that also earned him the greatest triumph of his career when India won the Thomas Cup in May.
“I used to be hard on myself. Later on, I realised that everybody is different and it’s very important to acknowledge what you’re doing out there. Lot of times in trying to compare yourself with other players, you forget to appreciate what you’re doing. There’s a constant comparison with somebody who is playing better than you. It takes a bit of a toll on your mental peace. The last few years I’ve stopped comparing myself with others,” said the former world No 8.
“I’ve realised that what I’m doing right now is good and I need to appreciate myself because it is not easy to play quarter-finals or semi-finals of Super 500+ events. It’s really important to understand that we’re playing the top-32, the world’s best, day in, day out. The level of competition is so high, we have to be physically fit to play 15-16 tournaments a year. Nobody knows what goes behind, to consistently travel the globe; it takes a toll. On top of that if you don’t acknowledge what you’re doing then it becomes really tough. I’m really glad I’m still able to play at that level and beat top-10 players. I’ve started to enjoy the process and not worry about losing.”
Conquering one’s own mental demons is one thing, controlling what others say is another. One question Prannoy has had to deal with throughout his career is how he loses to a lower ranked player, a lesser-known name, after beating an Olympic or a world champion. It has happened often in his career, including this year where he could have ended up winning multiple tournaments.
“I’ve been asked that a lot of times. I get really angry when people say these things. You’ve to understand that we’re playing quarter-finals or semi-finals of Super 500, 750 or 1000 events. My opponent didn’t get three rounds of walkovers to reach the semis. If he’s unseeded, he surely has to beat seeded players to reach semis. So how can he be a bad player? That is one thing I never understand” questioned the Pullela Gopichand protege.
“You’ve got to understand that he also has done a lot of hard work to beat a lot of good players. You’ve got to respect that. That’s how sport works. If you win, you’re a hero, if you lose people just want to pounce on you.”
But Prannoy has hit his “chill” mode in the Japanese capital. Physically he is in a “not bad” zone after struggling with injuries and health issues for years which also took a toll on him mentally, where he’s currently in “good space”. He is also content with the 2022 season—despite missing out on the Commonwealth Games where Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen were selected above him in singles. His run in 2022 saw him reach five quarter-finals, two semi-finals and one final—at Swiss Open—before clinching the historic Thomas Cup.
For now, the focus is back on Momota. “It depends on how you play on that particular day. But I’m prepared for Momota. You can never rule out players like him who’ve played at that level, have won so many tournaments. Even if they are out of form or returning from an injury, it just takes them one or two matches to become solid and steady. He’s also had a good and steady preparation for the World Championships. It is going to be a very tough one. But I have my chances. The only agenda is to play well,” concluded Prannoy.