“In Gujarat, the people are traditionally more business-oriented. When Gujaratis start to see sports as a business, they will be leaders in a very short time. After all, it is in the DNA of us Gujaratis to be aggressive when it comes to getting into new ventures,” said Utpal Gandhi, one of the stakeholders of Padmanabh Sports Private Limited, who are making their debut in the Premier Badminton League through their team — Ahmedabad Smash Masters.
The Smash Masters and North Eastern Warriors are the newly drafted franchises in the third edition of the PBL.
The team from Ahmedabad made a splash in the auction by snapping up the services of World No 10 HS Prannoy for a whopping 62 lakh.
In Mumbai, launching the newest franchise of PBL, team owner and chairman of Padmanabh Sports, Ashish Shah, expressed his hopes of gradually developing Gujarat into a major sporting hub in India by focusing on non-mainstream sports.
The Smash Masters will bank on their marquee signings, HS Prannoy and Tai Tzu Ying, to give their debut season a much-needed boost.
For Prannoy, this is a familiar hunting ground. It was in the last edition of PBL that the shuttler from Thiruvananthapuram surprised all his opponents with a drastic change in his style of play to remain unbeaten throughout the tournament.
“I had never played that aggressive in my life. I knew that to be in the top crop of players, I needed to improve and PBL was one platform where I could work on my game. For a lot of them, it was surprising to see my style of play,” said Prannoy, who believes the competition will be on a higher level this year.
Prannoy, part of a team that includes World No 1 women’s singles shuttler Tai Tzu Ying, Sourabh Verma, Siril Verma, Kamilla Rytter-Juhl and Kidambi Nandagopal among others look to make the Smash Masters serious contenders for the title in their inaugural season.
Prannoy believes sharing the dressing room with the greats of the game and playing against some of the best players is one of the biggest advantages of such a league.
However, with players involved in so many tournaments throughout the year, the question of burnout is inevitable.
The 2017 US Open Grand Prix Gold winner believes it is up to an individual player to figure out a scheduling that works best for him.
With so many Indians playing in top-tier tournaments and also featuring in this year’s Senior National Badminton Championships, scheduling of these events became a disputed issue.
“The scheduling could have been better but playing in tournaments like the Nationals is very important,” said Prannoy in an exclusive interview with Firstpost.
The scheduling becomes a more prominent issue for a player like Prannoy whose career has been plagued by injury. It was not an easy road for him to break into the top-10 after starting the year at 28.
The World No 10 attributes the improvement in his fitness to his revamped training under Pullela Gopichand and Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo.
Having been involved with the Indian camp for a considerable period of time, Prannoy feels Handoyo has developed a great rapport with the players and the coach now understands how the Indian players work and has a grasp on the inherent difference between Indonesian and Indian athletes.
"He is extremely energetic and it rubs off on us. With the experience behind him and the results he has amassed over the years as a coach, the next couple of years will be much more successful for the Indian players,” said Prannoy.
Handoyo’s work with the singles division has already worked wonders with seven Indians now featuring in the top-50 of the world rankings.
The increase in the number of Indian shuttlers in top ranks gives way to a lot more matches where they square off against each other in major tournaments.
It is also interesting to note how these friends in real life not only double up as sparring partners during training sessions but also competitors in big-ticket events across the year.
Though Prannoy feels it is mentally tough to constantly face the same set of players with increasing frequency, this is a reflection of the increasing bench strength of the men’s division.
This is a marked improvement from the men’s singles of the earlier years when the women’s singles division led by Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu hogged all the limelight.
The year 2017 was a watershed one for men’s badminton and Prannoy believes the change began with Sameer Verma’s win at the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold event, and Sai Praneeth then continued the good run with his win at the Singapore Open.
These victories opened the floodgates and there was no looking back.
“Suddenly things started to work well and there was a spark in the training. Everyone started to push harder and there was a hunger that wasn’t there two years ago. We stopped being content with reaching the quarter-final and further aimed to reach the semi-final and final,” beamed Prannoy.
It was just the start of something bigger and Kidambi Srikanth’s four Superseries wins in a year just set the bar higher for the Indian shuttlers.
“Srikanth has raised the bar so much that playing the semi-final is also not becoming a big deal, even playing the finals has just become a theek hai (okay) effort. Winning has become everything after Srikanth’s success and he gets a lot of credit for the revival of men’s badminton.”
With mixed success throughout the year, Prannoy has set realistic goals for 2018 that will see events like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games other than the usual BWF tournaments.
“Winning tournaments is more important than rankings. Aiming to win is more important and in the case of marquee events like Commonwealth Games, qualifying for the same will be my foremost aim,” said Prannoy talking about his goals for 2018.
Prannoy starts the 2018 season with PBL and he believes the fast-paced style of the tournament brings out an attacking style in players.
“Everyone has upped their game to become attacking players. Even Chen Long has started smashing and it is now understood that one can’t defend for long sessions of the game,” added Prannoy.
Adding on to the change in the style of play, Prannoy also touched upon the controversial and highly disputed service rule.
Referring it to be more of a problem for the doubles players, the national badminton champion felt that if and when the rule is enforced, it will be problematic for a lot of players in the circuit.
With the game evolving rapidly, players are required to always be on their toes training harder and improving their game leaving them little time to enjoy other pursuits.
The Hyderabad-based shuttler training out of the Pullela Gopichand badminton academy uses social media as a window into acquiring knowledge about other sports and current events.
“Unlike Srikanth, I have a well-rounded presence on social media. I just want to know so many things. People on social media want to know a player more on a personal level. It isn’t exactly harmful even if there are people who express their dislike,” said Prannoy about the impact of social networking sites in his daily life.
With the interview almost coming to a close, there was just question left to ask. A compulsory and essential question that had to be posed to the shuttler whose Twitter bio reads “Professional Badminton player!! Mallu and Barca all the way”
“Prannoy, are you a fan of Mammukka (Mammootty)or Lalettan (Mohan Lal)?”
Upon hearing the question, Prannoy flashed his trademark wide-toothed grin and said, “Die-hard Lalettan fan. Always,” before posing for the shutterbugs with a racquet in his hand in front of a banner that had Ahmedabad Smash Masters plastered all over it.
Let the games begin.
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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2017 13:12:08 IST