A battle with injuries and health issues made HS Prannoy realise that understanding his body and crafting a tailor-made training programme for specific opponents are non-negotiables to keep alive his dreams of winning medals for India.
On Saturday, the 31-year-old from Kerala signed off with a world championships bronze in Copenhagen, Denmark, becoming only the fifth Indian men’s singles player to win a medal at the prestigious event.
The result was the culmination of a good season during which he bagged the Malaysian Masters title and finished runner-up at the Australian Open, besides managing a semifinal and three quarterfinal finishes.
“It is a mix of a lot of work that coaches have put in. On court, there has been a change with Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) sir and Guru (RMV Gurusaidutt) bhaiya making training and plans for specific players, whom I might play. So, it has been tailor-made in that manner,” Prannoy told PTI before leaving for Copenhagen.
“Off the court, I have been training for the last 2 to 3 years with Rohan George Mathew, my strength and conditioning coach. So, it is about understanding the body, hence it is a mix of all these things, which has reflected in good improvement in the game,” he said.
When Prannoy was diagnosed with a digestive reflux issue, he started working with Bangalore-based Invictus high performance lab to sort out his diet.
The man from Thiruvananthapuram, who was also infected with COVID-19 in November 2020, started monitoring his glucose levels with Ultrahuman M1 patch, while wearing the Ultrahuman Ring AIR to track his training and recovery.
“Over the years, training keeps changing. There is no perfect standard in training. It is about exploring different things and keeping what works. Intensity is always there but as you get older you need to know how much load you can bear and that you are not hitting the injury line, and back off when needed,” he said.
“I have been good in pushing myself in training and also backing off when I am not feeling good. These decisions have been wisely taken by the coaches,” he added.
On Friday, Prannoy knocked out Olympic gold medallist and defending champion Viktor Axelsen to ensure a medal at the World Championships. He had come close to beating the world number one Dane during the Japan Open in July.
“Viktor is somebody who has maintained a routine consistently and you have to give it to him for conditioning his body to the maximum fitness day in and day out,” he said.
“In the Japan Open, I had a good match. I had my chances but the margin of error is so less against him that if you lose a bit of focus, the game tilts. If there is a slight blip in focus and it goes out of your hand,” he added.
For long, Prannoy has been known as a giant killer but he didn’t have a big title or a medal to show in his cabinet.
He had made an immediate impact, scalping the likes of Taufik Hidayat, Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan while achieving the world number 8 ranking in 2017.
But health issues affected his game as he plummeted to 33 in 2021. However, he turned his career around at the back end of 2021. Prannoy returned to the top 10 in December last year before achieving a career-best ranking of world number 7 in May this year.
The bronze at the World Championships will help him erase some of the disappointments and memories of prior losses.
Asked if he has any regrets, Prannoy said: “I don’t think so. I mean, nobody just plays at the highest level all the time, maybe, a few who might have done that but it is important to know you have done the right thing, you have done your parts.
“I’m happy with what I have done. Last two years, I have put in a lot of hard work, which is kind of coming into the game now.
“My experience is helping me now, so I can play different kinds of games against different players, I’m able to understand the change and adapt to it,” he explained.
Asked about his future plans in sport, Prannoy said: “Badminton is a much more explosive sport. There are lots of technical aspects, one needs the entire body to play at the highest level, so it is tough to maintain that speed of the game when you are 35 or 36.
“There are a lot more young players coming and the room for error is less. If you lose speed you can’t play at the highest level,” he said.
For the man of the moment, next up will be China Open Super 1000 (September 5-10). He is likely to skip the Hong Kong Open Super 500 the next week before training his guns at the Asian Games (September 23–October 8) in Hangzhou.