Having picked the racket at the age of 7, Pranaav Chopra is famously known as the "Doubles Specialist" in the Indian Badminton circuit. The National champion in the mixed doubles, Ranked #23 in mixed doubles worldwide & the gold medalist in the Commonwealth, the one & only Pranaav Chopra caught up with CynergyServices over cynergy's own web conferencing tool. Read in to know more of this very inspiring journey & do leave your comments below.
There is complete curfew in Punjab, so how are you managing things? How has the last few months been?
We are living in uncertain times and it’s been tough for all sports athletes. Yeah, we can’t step out from our houses due to strict curfew imposed. So, we are managing our fitness regime, core workouts somehow in our houses. I have set up a small place in my room where I can do all the exercises which the coaches usually advise us & that's pretty much it.
All of the players, as I see the in the online training videos, have found some place in their houses so that they can spend 60-90 mins to train without any disturbance and use the full area. maintain their fitness & practice. These are some of the things we never thought of like doing training & fitness in our rooms. Given the circumstances we are in, we are all trying our best to stay agile & fit. That’s all about it, staying positive & motivated. When the game resumes, we should be ready to come back & should not have any issues with our sports.
So how do you spend rest of your time at home?
I do help with the household chores such as cleaning utensils and dusting. My brother has two daughters, so I play with them for some time and help them with them. Always a fun to be with kids and spend time with them. We also have a dog at home and playing with him is another thing I love a lot. Catching up on some of the movies and web series on different online platforms like Amazon & Netflix as well. As a family, we all meetup at the dining for our meal and chat about different ongoing stuff. It’s interesting, as these times are also very precious which we didn’t get to spend much earlier.
Pranaav with his entire family
Pranaav with his entire family
A message you would want to share with the larger community in this crisis.
I would just say that at this moment, we need to give priority to our health & the health of our loved ones. This virus is very contagious, so we need to be careful with what we do as it directly affects people around us. Also, we need to help the people who are in need, in whatever ways possible. Doesn’t matter whether its big or small, as every small contribution we make, will take humanity a step forward for the good.
Coming into the game. Top shuttlers pulling out of the all England championship earlier, even vacating the academy. Your thoughts on that.
Some did backout, and yes, everyone was skeptical about going into the tournament. We didn’t know what exactly the situation was over there. The thought in everyone’s mind, was that if a player had a chance to qualify then they can skip else if the situation gets worse it will affect their future tours as well. Like Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, & Chirag Shetty were sure of their qualification, so they felt it is wiser to skip and take care of their health. They had privilege & luxury to skip the tournament. Sameer, Saurav and Prannoy HS had a tough chance to qualify and they decided it’s better to take care of their health & fitness first. We also had this thought, but we thought that we should give it a try as those points were really important for us for qualification. That’s the whole reason we travelled.
No such precautions taken. Players and officials shaking hands during a match and then even public was allowed in the stadiums. Sanitizers were placed at some places but that was it. From Day 2&3, there were some restrictions in place but initially it was quite risky. UK perhaps got caught in surprise and perhaps underestimated the magnitude of the risk.
All tournaments till August has been cancelled right now. How do you see the sport shaping up after the lockdown gets over?
It also depends if the domestic events will start back soon because if you see many of the other countries have already started training, but India is still in lockdown. Perhaps I think India will be one of those last countries which will starting to train. After that it also depends on how many more tournaments we will get for qualification. If there are a smaller number of tournaments, then we will prefer to train and prepare for international events.
Denmark has announced that they will conduct their tournament in October. They have already started training. Same with Indonesian & Chinese Taipei and they have also started training. Lots has to happen before we can resume. Not sure yet on how the international travel will be planned. Let’s see, how things go.
You are known as the double’s specialist in this sport. You have achieved that mastery over this sport. When there has been so much focus on Singles, how did you manage your journey and found a space in Doubles.
I had better performances in doubles in junior days like U16 & U19. When I used to play Singles, I used to be in pressure. However, it wasn’t the same in Doubles where I used to enjoy myself lot more. Even my parents were against me playing doubles initially, as you know everyone wants you to succeed and gain the fame. While in Doubles, there is a partner involved. But once we decided on it, my parents supported me a lot.
I still feel that I could have done lot more & got more attention from media & public, like it happens in singles. But from spectator’s angles, doubles are more interesting & fun to watch. Many countries have supported doubles a lot more. Lot more focus should be given to doubles than its given today and we lack behind in that capacity. However, things are changing now slowly, for the good. Doubles bring that energy in the court of playing as a team, hence it’s great fun.
Ok. Let’s roll back a bit. You were an undisputed doubles champion in domestic circuit, winning 9 medals at a trot in U19.
For that one year in Juniors, yes. I won all the matches in all the tournaments in the domestic circuit whichever I played. It really changed things for me.
Currently your pair with Sikki is ranked 28, but you were ranked 13 at one point.
Yes. My pairing with Sikki Reddy has been really great. We have known each other from very long. We are almost the same age too. We have played junior/sub-junior tournaments together, so we know our game very closely. Off the court too, we are great friends. We communicate very well with each other & share right feedback. We always help each other in the areas we lack.
Pranaav, with his doubles partner and close friend Sikki Reddy
We have had different partners in past. When Tan Kim Her came around as doubles coach in India things changed, and we came together to play as a pair. Tan Kim Her had made a few pairs already (like Satwiksairaj Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty), and he recommended me to play the mixed doubles & paired me with Sikki Reddy. Tan plans our games and strategies & he is great at that. He has been very clear in his words & expectations. He told us that it’s just about trying first & then we will see how it goes. As a pair, we are right & left-handed, and that’s a surprise element too on the court. We tried ourselves for 4-5 months and after that we had our great run in GP Tournaments, GP Golds, reaching semi-finals in super series & eventually achieving the world rank 13. Tan Kim Her really changed the scenario for us. Credit goes to him for that.
Pranaav & Sikki during Singapore Badminton Open 2019
In past, I had played with Akshay Dewalkar and we had a great run in Syed Modi GP Gold in 2016 in Lucknow, in the Olympic qualification year. Tan Kim Her would help us plan how to strategize and play against the Malaysians, Indonesian players. With a better plan in place, we were able to beat world number 10,8,7 in the pre- quarter, quarter & semis. It was my one of the best tournaments in Men’s’ Doubles.
Tell us more about Tan Kim Her, your doubles coach.
We never had a doubles specialist coach in India in the past. Earlier we never had an idea on what it takes to form a right pair & what techniques are required to make that pair a winning combination. When Tan came, things changed, and we had specific trainings for doubles. He was deciding tournaments for us, making the right changes. We need to trust the coach and carry their plans in the court. They have played much more than us and have had experiences in the past. Players can be selfish, but then you have the trust your coach and his instincts. With Tan Kim Her, we got the needed focus and the result is for everyone to see.
Pranaav, with his coach Tan Kim Her
How has things been after his resignation?
It definitely came to us as a shock, as none of the players were aware of his exit plan. It was actually a very sudden announcement for us. It was difficult to believe that he was leaving us at a point when the Olympic qualification period was about to start. We had one month or so in between, after which Flandy Limpele and Namrih Suroto joined us as our coaches. Flandy took care of the main senior group & Namrih took charge of other seniors and junior group. In that one month after Tan left, we had our Indian Coaches Pradnya Gadre and Vijaydeep Singh took charge of our training sessions and were assisting Tan when he was here. Flandy helped us a lot in various things & his ideas of training were a bit different. Great working with him & he too left us just before the lockdown.
A gala welcome after the commonwealth games at Australia. India’s first ever gold at an international badminton team event.
Yes, it was a huge moment. We had never won a gold at that level. We were all staying in one apartment this time in the village & we discussed that this time we can make it possible. That believe was always there, and it was a matter of a planned execution. It was hard to believe when it actually happened. Srikanth’s win against Lee of Malaysia, Saina playing that crucial third match, a great win from Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwin in the mixed doubles. It was an unbelievable moment to stand at the podium and witness that gold medal.
India's first ever gold at the Commonwealth Games, Australia
Any other moments from the sport, which you will always cherish?
Winning the Syed Modi GP gold title with Sikki Reddy is one of my best winning moments. That was quite special for me. Reaching semifinals in Super-series also is one of the special moments for me.
Your training Journey.
Early days, I trained in Ludhiana. My father used to play doubles in a club in the morning, and I used to go along with him. He wanted me to stay fit and play the sport. He had some health issues & he didn’t want me to have any health issues in future. I used to watch him play & simulate him. Slowly I started to play & enjoy the sport. In the club, I managed to get a coach who helped me learn more about the sport & my interest grew after that. After six months, I played U10 states tournament and won the doubles. That was the time when my father thought to try the sport for next few years. I had my good run in U13 & other domestic tournaments.
Pranaav, during his U10/U13 domestic tournaments
Later I moved to Mumbai & trained under Mr. Uday Pawar. I stayed there for 2 years and trained under him. My game got changed after that, as he had a big picture in mind and so many players under him. That brought lot of change in my game, views & the style of play. Later I was selected in the national camps in Juniors and started travelling to different places attending the camps. Eventually in 2008 when the Pullela Gopichand Badminton academy was built, we all came together in academy.
About the Pullela Gopichand Badminton academy
Pullela Gopichand Badminton academy, Hyderabad
Everyone coming together is a great atmosphere at the academy. That makes us improve as we get to play & practice with better & senior players. We can’t compare to anything, what Gopi sir gave us. The academy, the facilities, the staying amenities, food, gym, and above all have the courts whenever you want to train & practice. We have amazing training grounds and everyone coming together to train is a boost in itself.
Various Facilities at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton academy, Hyderabad
We do mix up at times with juniors for the sessions & do an on-court trainings from around 8:30 to 11:30 in the morning. In the evenings we would have our gym sessions, agility or running sessions for around 2 hours. Sometimes on a Saturday morning we have our game training sessions, so that's when even Singles players join us in playing doubles & we would mix with them and play some fun doubles. So roughly around 6-7hrs of effort we put every day in trainings at the academy.
So, how is the new batch of younger players coming along? Wil they be able to break your domestic record.
We do have many juniors taking up doubles. Lot more understanding needs to go into doubles. We need to work with our partner to make it a winning combination. We can’t blame or credit our partners for win & losses. There are some juniors who have got that great potential. Dhruv Kapila & Arjun M.R. are great in Juniors and have had successes and we do have one to two girls who have great potential. We used to watch our senior play, watch their videos and used to make our plans. New batch is lot luckier as they have lot more support now with sponsors, better facilities, specialists’ coaches which we lacked in our days.
Playing for over a decade, we only received our sponsors only 2 years back. There was hardly any support to us. Our dedicated coach came in 2016 only. We have managed ourselves with very few resources available. I & Sikki Reddy used to fund our own travels, accommodations, tickets etc. We used to find cheaper tickets, hotels etc. to park ourselves during the international tours.
That way the new generation is quite blessed, as they don’t have to worry about international events, as their sponsors take care of such things. They need make use of advantage and increase their penetration. Attitude is the key, and if they work on it, they will go miles. Mindset of playing for yourself Vs playing as a team – that’s where the heart is. If we play as a team, we will surely succeed.
People who have supported you from behind the scene & their contributions
It is a complete teamwork which consists of our coach, support staff, physio, support from the association and the government. Everyone deserves a credit for the successes I have had in my career. Our physios are always ready to help us whenever we need them. Coaches spend so much time with us in the court helping us improving our sport. BAI (Badminton Association of India) & SAI (Sports Authority of India) together taking up our expenses of the tournaments we want to play. Yonex (equipment sponsor) & Olympic Gold Quest takes care of my game related expenses. Unlike the past, where I had to spend my own money for equipment, supplements & travels etc., now I don’t need to worry about all those and just focus on improving my game.
This article was originally published by cynergyservices.org