Prannoy upsets Srikanth to claim maiden Nationals title


HS Prannoy must have imagined this win a thousand times in his head, played it on slo-mo and then pressed rewind. While the senior nationals probably wasn't the stage he had in mind, the result was more than welcome. The odds were stacked up against him and so was the crowd for the larger part, but Prannoy managed to turn all that around for a win against current world No 2 and Indian badminton's latest crush Kidambi Srikanth in the men's singles final on Wednesday.

The last time the world No 11 beat Srikanth was at the Tata Open in 2011, when he was a promising junior and the latter was pretty much an unknown. Six years since, Srikanth has a heap of Superseries titles to show for his journey, while Prannoy is still working his way towards his first big win. At the Divisional Sports Complex in Nagpur on Wednesday, none of that really mattered as Prannoy dismantled Srikanth 21-15, 16-21, 21-7.

While Prannoy admitted that there's little motivation playing against each other since they train together and know each other's games inside out, the win was still big for him. "Well, obviously beating Srikanth is great for my confidence given the kind of form he's in now. He's the world No 2," Prannoy said later. Pre-empting Srikanth's comeback in the second game after he took the first, the Kerala boy was certain to not let his mind waver and his shots to grow loose. "Knowing Srikanth's game I was sure he would come back in the second, but I decided to stay calm and in control. I managed to execute the plan well and made very few unforced errors than what I normally would in such situations."

A slightly anticlimactic end to a rally in the decider which had both players going at the shuttle like gladiators was brought when Srikanth misjudged a return which landed plum on the line. Srikanth closed his eyes and scrunched his nose at the folly and the widening gap in scores. 1-6. He also struggled with his lifts and dribbles, and almost looked like he'd forgotten to pack in his winning racket while Prannoy smashed and retrieved wildly. Prannoy probably didn't want a repeat of the French Open Superseries defeat after a close fight. He knows that he needs wins like today in bigger stages. "I need to do more than losing in quarterfinals and semi-finals. I have to win a Superseries title now," Prannoy said. He used his signature backhand whiplash smash on quite a few occasions with flattering measure of success. "Yeah, I think my backhand smash is the best in the world," Prannoy said, a touch pompous.

The match wrapped up, Prannoy placed his palm behind his left ear and once satisfied with the cheers flung his racket into the stands. Srikanth allowed his sparring partner and buddy his moment of accomplishment, waiting patiently for him with his arms across the net tape.