One of Indian badminton’s leading lights, HS Prannoy has recently broken into the top 10 to join fellow Indians Kidambi Srikanth and PV Sindhu in the premier space. While Srikanth and Sindhu won the big titles this year, HS Prannoy has improved immensely taking his rankings up from No. 30 to 10 rounding off by beating the big fish and world No. 2 Srikanth in the National final.While Prannoy will miss out in playing the Dubai Super series finals in the year ender where the top 8 ranked players compete, he is now gearing up for the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in India, having fetched the highest purse of 62 lakhs in the auction.In an interview with India Today, Prannoy talks about the new found respect for Indian players in top tournaments and his rivalry with Srikanth, predicting how the duo could be facing off more often in the coming years in elite events. Excerpts.Q. Are you going into the PBL carrying some extra pressure, having bagged the highest purse in the auction?A. Not really. It’s extra bonus. Someone has trusted you saying you are the best. Last year I was unbeaten with seven straight wins. This year will be tougher playing against the best with Viktor Axelsen and Kidambi Srikanth all lined up. But it should be fun three weeks. Hopefully we will get to see the world’s best badminton.Q. You would be happy to break into the top 10. Although you would have like to have finished in the top 8?advertisementA. Definitely, top 8 is much safer. But I am glad to be in the top ten. That’s what you first look to do, to break into the top 10. Only consistent performance gets you there. The next six months in 2018 will be crucial. As you get into the top 8, the draws in bigger events will be better as you don’t run into the world no 1 and 2 in the pre-quarters. As of now I am happy with the year. From 30 to 10, I had to dig deep and had some good Super series semis finishes.National Champions 2017 !!! pic.twitter.com/i5O4b9OKkk- PRANNOY HS (@PRANNOYHSPRI) November 8, 2017Q. Anything you could have done differently?A. So many matches where you thought, you had it. One was the Indonesian Open semis where I had 7 match points and couldn’t win it. And the French Open semis against Srikanth where I was totally in control of all games but couldn’t finish it off. Winning these two matches, I wouldn’t just have had a chance to get in top 8 but also have a go at Super series titles. But I need to be positive for all I have achieved and take lessons for the future.Q. Prakash Padukone recently spoke about the need to be smart and pick the right tournaments.A. What Prakash Sir said is great. Because what we need to do is focus on the bigger events. The Commonwealth games, Asian games, Olympics come once in four years and we need to do be in shape physically and mentally. We have crazy amount of tournaments in 2018 so have to be selective to stay in shape physically and mentally.One just can’t run behind rankings. If we look to run behind rankings we will have to play all tournaments which will not help anyway. It’s an art to pick tournaments where you can do well and in which conditions. That’s what all top players will look to do and next year it will get even tougher.Q. You and Srikanth are turning into a rivalry of sorts?A. It’s a great feeling to be a rival to Srikanth. On court he has been great. 2017 entirely belongs to him. We had a couple of great matches, one in the French Open and the National finals. So the rivalry has just begun. And next couple of years we will have to play each other a lot because that’s what happens at elite level. It’s very healthy.Not just us two with Sai (Praneeth), Sameer (Verma), Ajay (Jayaram), Kashyap we will all play each other a lot more in Super series. This pushes us in training aspect where there is no relaxing and one has to keep pushing oneself.Q. But do the two of you also look to keep more distance from each other during events when you could be opponents anytime. How does it work?A. I think we are experienced and playing professionally for the last 8 to 10 years. Mentally when you get onto the court you switch off the friend mode and get into playing mode where you just follow the shuttle and are chasing the win. Than off the court you are friends again.advertisementBut I have seen cases where it is other way. It’s a very fine line where things can go worse. But I am glad all us top players are mature to know when to be friends and opponents on and off court. We have been travelling together for the last 15 years.Q. A word on Saina Nehwal. The pioneer girl in the success story of Indian badminton and how she has comeback this year with the World Championship medal and Nationals win.A. Saina has always been a fighter. She is one girl who is ready to give all for the sport. I have been seeing her for the last 8 or 10 years. She has shown me so many things like how to comeback from each set back, on the need to push yourself mentally. I still wonder how she pushes herself. After each loss she goes mad and just wants to train harder. I have not seen that in anyone else in our country. That’s why she is special. I am really glad that she is back and getting better. I hope she gets to her best next year and I want her to win something even bigger.Q. Last question. Is there a element of respect or fear for Indians amongst opponents now after India’s rise in world badminton?A. Yes. Couple of years back that fear was not there and we used to fear the Chinese and Malaysians. Now we have that respect and name saying that he/she is that that singles player from India. It’s not just the two of us. But whoever comes from India in the draw, people are now worried because they know we have the bench strength to beat anyone on our day. So everyone has that fear and no one takes us lightly.So it’s good for us on one side but something for us to be cautious about as well because we need to have that extra amount of brilliance to beat opponents. Because everybody is watching and doing video analysis because they know Indian are beating the top players. So one has to have that element of surprise in your game. But I think Commonwealth and Asian games will be big because we have a good chance. The entire lot is playing well. 2017 was great but we need to work harder and it won’t be easy.
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