Malaysia Masters: HS Prannoy prepares to prosper

Before they set off for the treacherously windy arenas of the east Asian straits, Indian players – notably HS Prannoy – had trained their minds to negotiate the drifty conditions. Prior to embarking on the Indonesia- Malaysia-Singapore swing of things, Prannoy had practised disciplining his mind and limbs to keep the moody shuttle, rendered whimsical by A/C blowers, in control. So that it didn’t drift dangerously out of bounds. Not by simulating conditions in Hyderabad, because they couldn’t. But by simply being bloody-minded through the length of an entire training session spent refusing to lift the bird into any elevation. So far, so good.

In making his second semi-final in as many weeks at Malaysia’s Axiata, Prannoy displayed that control even as the drift continued dictating play. Against Japanese Top 15 player Kanta Tsuneyama, the second shot of the quarter-final itself fell through a blind spot – a mix of lighting and sidewards drift, and Prannoy ended up shadowing the mis-contact – missing sighting it entirely. But thereafter, Prannoy would show a canny ability to deal with the angled returns and stalking speed of the Japanese, even as he negotiated tricky situations, winning 25-23, 22-20.

Tsuneyama doesn’t boast of a great kill smash and attack, and Prannoy used the tosses and length to good effect, to control the shuttle and stay a pace ahead. When errors cropped up on the drives which the Japanese was sending across, Prannoy could change the pace of the rallies when closing out both games.

In the opener, Tsuneyama led 20-19, but Prannoy persisted to earn three game points, and converted the fourth. All-out pace was proving to be comfortable for the Japanese, who could run down shuttles all day, and Prannoy would respond by mixing it up. This he did by summoning the aforementioned discipline in keeping the shuttle down, then employing a neutral pace within a rally and finally, applying the full press building towards a kill to take the first game 25-23.

In the second, Tsuneyama briefly believed he could force a decider when he was leading 18-15. But Prannoy once again built points to chomp into that lead, and rattled off four straight points to take the match.

Next challenge

He plays Hong Kong’s NG Ka Long Angus, a decidedly more attacking player with a sharp net game, on Saturday. Semis have been slippery for Prannoy in tournaments Super 500 upwards, as his nerves struggle with controlling the same length he seems to master Wednesday through Friday. He’s gone a shade blank in earlier business ends, but there is little doubt he’s playing some of the best badminton of his life.

It will come down to not worrying about what stage of the tournament he is playing in, keeping a calm mind, yet not lulling himself into blunting his trademark beast attack. Perhaps psyching himself up for the semis, while stringing together one point after another is what’s needed. Or enjoying the fire and brimstone of a contest with all its twists and turns.

Having beaten Angus the last three times, there’s no reason why Prannoy can’t extend the streak. Angus beat Chou Tien Chen in the quarters, but Prannoy holds the stomping class to go the distance in Malaysia. He’s earned for himself the big stage to go for the big ones this season. Now he needs to prance around and pivot for his backhand kills.

Sindhu’s endgame woes vs Tai Tzu

PV Sindhu’s hard work in defence came to nought as she couldn’t close out against Taiwanese Tai Tzu-Ying, going down 13-21, 21-12, 12-21. She did well to drag the match into the decider but had no firepower or wits left as Tai Tzu simply amped the pace and left her staggeringly in her wake of eight straight points to the finish.

It made Sindhu look like the opponent had toyed with her game, for the ending was tame. There was no perceptible change in the pace of rallies, but some wobbly temperament undid all the good work Sindhu had put in, to keep the contest appear even by keeping pace with Tai’s trickery and bringing the heavies – the power smashes, all shoulders, into play.

However, it wasn’t exactly Tai’s deception as her clarity – and Sindhu’s lack thereof – that finally stubbed her out of a place in the semis. A couple of line challenges not going her way seemed to faze Sindhu a tad, and then the lingering effects of those points plus running out of appeals compounded matters. Sindhu appeared to freeze after a few whizzed past her, and ran out of ideas in the most crucial phase of the match.

It is said that defence will fortify Sindhu’s game. But not if the follow-up in attack – the energy and tactics needed in tow – goes missing and she goes into a shell at the sighting of the endline. In a 55-minute match, perhaps the last 10 minutes are the only ones that she will need to make count. There are no prizes for getting to the 45- minute mark in international sport. Her good play over 45 minutes only deepens the wretchedness of the clueless last 10 minutes.

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