HS Prannoy crowned Malaysia Masters champion after win over China's Hongyang in final
The 30-year-old wore down his younger Chinese opponent Weng Hongyang in a long-drawn final at Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
HS Prannoy is well known as a giant killer on the international badminton circuit. From Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei to Viktor Axelsen, the 30-year-old has beaten the best in the business. But throughout his long career, the shuttler from Thiruvananthapuram has not been able to string together these victories for regular titles, resulting in his last title coming at the 2017 US Open.
That changed on Sunday. Following a week of consistent performances, dispatching top players despite long-drawn matches that stretched even beyond 90 minutes, the Pullela Gopichand protégé delivered in Kuala Lumpur to clinch the men’s singles crown at the $420,000 Malaysia Masters, his first individual title in six years.
It took a gruelling 94 minutes for the world No. 9 to beat upcoming Chinese Weng Hongyang 21-19, 13-21, 21-18 to win the Super 500 crown. Prannoy became the third Indian, after PV Sindhu (2013, 2016) and Saina Nehwal (2017), and first male to win the Malaysia Masters while pocketing $31,500.
"Just too many emotions because the last six years were too much of a roller-coaster ride for me and really didn't expect this to happen after six years. If you'd asked me in 2017, I don't think I would have told you that in 2023 I would be winning a Super 500. We have worked really, really hard and the result is showing," Prannoy said from the Malaysian capital.
His first title on the BWF World Tour – which started in 2018 replacing the Superseries system – will help Prannoy in his bid to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics with the one-year qualification starting this month. Currently India’s highest ranked men’s singles player – the only Indian in the top-20 –the points earned at the Axiata Arena puts him in good stead to qualify for his first Olympics.
Despite marathon matches in the preceding rounds, Prannoy on Saturday had said he was ready for the final. Facing the world No.34 Chinese, who too had a brilliant week beating former world champion Kento Momota and Asian champion Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, among others, to reach the final, Prannoy went for his shots in a game of fine margins against a much younger and faster opponent.
In a neck-and-neck battle, Prannoy targetted the backhand of Weng. He kept it tidy and used slices from the back court to draw the southpaw to the front, following it up with a push to the back. Using sound tactics, Prannoy made sure he led, albeit narrow at 11-10, at the mid-game interval. Whenever Prannoy built a small gap, Weng closed it with some down-the-line as well as body smashes, matching Prannoy stroke for stroke. But the key member of India's triumphant Thomas Cup team maintained a slight edge, taking the first game in 31 minutes.
Both shuttlers were quite accurate with their shots, going for the kill early in the second game. While Prannoy still targetted Weng’s backhand, the world No.34 from China took off from 11-10 to win six straight points. The lead he built was enough to give him the game in 26 minutes and push the match into the decider.
Tiredness started creeping into Prannoy's game, manifested by some wayward smashes, as he trailed 5-8 in the decider. But coach and friend RMV Gurusaidutt seated courtside egged him on. Prannoy started pushing his limit as he hammered more cross-court winners that helped him lead 11-10 at the interval. A couple of down-the-line smashes saw Prannoy earn two championship points before closing out the contest on his first.
"It's too much of emotions as such and then you are excited to come out there and play in front of such a big crowd. It was a beautiful crowd out there, so you're always excited to be there. The draw was really tough and I had really tough matches as I had to dig really deep. All four matches went to the wire and that shows how patient I was and my fitness was also pretty much decent. To beat these kind of players is not easy, you just have to dig deep. The conditions were really slow the entire tournament and all matches went for long. You just had to hang in there, and I did that," said the champion.
Credit to Gurusaidutt
Prannoy credited his physios and coaches, especially RMV Gurusaidutt, who retired last year and joined the national coaching setup, for the success. Prannoy started working with Guru in January and it is bearing results.
"His transition (from player to coach) has not been long. It feels good to work with him as he has played at a good level, understands the conditions and situations due to his experience. He gives important inputs which really helps,” concluded Prannoy.