The one characteristic of HS Prannoy that stands out is that he is brutally honest. He never shies away from speaking his mind and baring his heart, even if his words come across as a surprise to many.
He never holds himself back and is never apprehensive of the consequences. And that makes any conversation with him very refreshing.
That particular nature of him is also one of the very reasons why, the Kerala shuttler openly admitted to his 190, 000 + followers on Twitter that he choked right after suffering a heartbreaking defeat in the bronze medal match at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
It was a bruising defeat. He was twice a point away from clinching the bronze medal against England's Rajiv Ouseph, and twice he failed. What could have been his first medal from the Games and India's second in men's singles from Gold Coast, turned into despair.
Prannoy was obviously distraught and that day, in his own words, turned out to be a nightmare for him. Yet, he felt that he owed his shocked fans an explanation.
The 25-year-old never made an attempt to hide what was evident. For any elite player, it takes guts to even write the words, I choked when it mattered. But then Prannoy is not like any other elite athlete. It is hard to dissuade him from doing what he is convinced about.
I thought I had to tell what went off that day, Prannoy told The Bridge in an exclusive interaction.
Probably everyone was expecting a medal from me. Just a couple of weeks back, I had a bad match in All England also where I was in very comfortable position, but then didn't finish it off. I had given lot of interviews, saying I have come close but didn't finish it off. So, when I actually choked that day, I felt it is better to write exactly that.
That day left a deep wound. He had let the pressure get to him until it snowballed into something so colossal that it totally choked him.
When the ordeal was finally over, he felt so lost that there was only one man he could turn to to pull him out of the pit -- the ever dependable Pullela Gopichand.
The coach extraordinaire's pep talk instilled belief in him again and injected him with a new desire to push the setback aside and train harder.
That day was a nightmare, Prannoy recounts. It took a lot of time to get out of it. Gopi Sir came up to me and we spoke for a long time.
The thing which he said really helped me. He said, It's good that it happened. It's not something for which you did not try. Things just did not go your way, but the important thing is to come back the next day and start training. You have a lot of tournaments coming up.
That talk gave me a lot of belief and probably, for 1-2 days, I was off. By the time I came back, I was mentally ready to start training and start to do things which I was not doing at the Commonwealth Games.
Prannoy has no qualms about admitting that he did indeed allow his mind to wander. Thoughts about the gravity of that medal win robbed him of the steely focus that he was expected to have during that all-important bronze medal match.
That is something he has been battling for the last one year -- to shut out even a tiny thought about the possible outcome of a match. But then he is human after all and lapses do happen.
It is these mistakes that have helped him grow as a player and have moulded him into the medal-winning shuttler that we now see. Being the fast learner that he is, Prannoy learns his biggest lessons from his bad days and knows how to rectify them in his very next opportunity.
If I had lost that Asian Championships quarter-final, there would have been no medal. Some days you really don't think about what's coming next and you just keep enjoying the moment.
I didn't do that at the Commonwealth Games. I was trying to think a lot about what the outcome would be. I didn't let all that happen at the Asian Championships. After I had won the quarter-final, Suman (physio) came and told me that I have won a medal.
He didn't even realize that his stunning victory over Son Wan Ho in the Asian Championships quarter-finals had confirmed him a medal! That's how much engrossed he was in his task.
But that big change didn't happen overnight. He still wasn't in the best frame of mind heading to Wuhan. A lot of negative stuff took precedence, as he himself said.Also Read: Freed from the shackles of pressure, HS Prannoy learning to enjoy playing more
Even in his first match against Wangcharoen Kantaphon, he still couldn't find the serenity. There were ebbs and flows, mostly because Prannoy was once again fighting hard within himself to find that inner calm.
That cost him a game. But the reward was sweeter.
When he finally grabbed the match point, he was at peace with himself. That win emboldened him and he could once again enjoy playing such high-level competitive matches again. He even told Gopichand that he had found that winning feeling again.
The first match went to the wire because I was not in that match. I was just trying to finish that match as soon as possible.
Once I reached the second round, I could feel that now I am good to go. From that round, I always knew that I am in there. After winning the first round, I told Gopi Sir that now I am getting that feeling again. From thereon, I felt very good.
Everything fell into place for Prannoy in those three rounds in Wuhan. He also attributes his success to an improved fitness level. He never felt tired throughout his campaign, he claims. And that, according to him, is one of the principal reasons why, he was mentally very alert and was always ready to do whatever it took.
Against Chen Long, I didn't lose any point because I was tired. Against Son Wan Ho also, I was a bit faster and he could not pace it up to me.
Whenever you are physically on, then your mind works really well. You then know what exactly is happening around you. You try to remain focussed more.
But it all did come crashing down when he faced the Olympic champion. Chen Long is one player Prannoy has beaten before. However, that day, the Indian's experimentations let him down.https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/990150306884399104
At crucial junctures of the match, he tried to go for extraordinary shots to startle the Chinese and that backfired. He was always catching up until he could not do it anymore. Ever the truthful person, Prannoy says he should not have done it.
I knew what exactly was coming from his side, but I was playing in patches and whenever I was trying to do something extra, I was losing the point.
I was trying something out of the box and it was not happening. It's something I should not have done, but after coming back when I think about it, I know I actually played well. There were a lot of positives.
His conscious effort to tweak a few things mentally for the past one year has already seen him excel in quite a few events. Physically too he has been in a better shape than ever. It all came together after years and years of sustaining injuries, being sent to the sidelines and then starting from scratch again.
Ever since he made a mark at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, there was never any question about his immense talent. But it took him quite a long time to live up to his potential.
After such a long and arduous road to the top tier, seeing that career-high World No. 8 ranking beside his name indeed feels good. That single-digit ranking is something he had been chasing for an eternity, so his joy is understandable.
It's something I have been trying to do for the last couple of years. There have been so many breaks in between and so many injuries I have had in 2011-12. I could not get past that 10 mark then.
I am happy that at least now so many consistent results are coming at this point of time. Without that, top 8 is really tough. You need to win big events or play quarters and semis of every tournament to be there. So I am happy.
For someone, who has been in the shadows of his peers, things are about to change. He has never been the frontrunner, never the top guy. And he is completely okay with that.
He accepts that his rise has been slow as compared to someone like Kidambi Srikanth. Frank as ever, he did not hesitate one bit in telling that his own academymates like Srikanth and Saina Nehwal always deliver, and that is why their popularity is totally justified.
That people's expectations from them have been sky-high, whereas he has pretty much been the underdog all throughout, absolutely never bothers him. He is just happy to be where he is now and hopes to remain there for as long as possible.
I have never been in a position where I have been the first player of a country. I have never felt that people have had a feeling that I am the first player of a country and that people are looking forward to me. I have always been the second and third and probably, even fourth.
I really know that people always keep expecting from Saina and Srikanth, because they always give you big results in big events. I think that's a good thing because people love to watch you play. They got there before me and probably everything comes for me a little bit slowly. I am glad that I am slowly getting there.
I am just happy that now I am in a place where, probably in the next two years, I won't have to come back to that third or fourth position of the country.
He doesn't have to. Twice this year, he has been the best performer for India in men's singles, and that too, at prestigious tournaments -- the All England Open and the Asian Championships. After years and years of struggle, he has finally come into his own.
Not everybody can make a smooth transition to the senior level and immediately go on a winning spree. Not everybody can rocket to the country's No. 1 position in a flash.
But then not everybody is HS Prannoy. He shows as much sincerity on the court as he does in telling the truth, no matter how unpalatable it might be for him. And that is one quality that is going to take him far.
He has patiently waited for his time even when he has quietly watched his peers soaring to great heights. Through all his frequent battles with his body and mind, he had never given up, for deep in his heart he knew that one day the light would indeed shine bright.
For HS Prannoy, his time is now.