Badminton-India's Prannoy pins Paris hopes on element of surprise

FILE PHOTO: Asian Games - Hangzhou 2022 - Badminton - Binjiang Gymnasium, Hangzhou, China - October 7, 2023 Bronze medallist India's Prannoy Haseena Sunil Kumar poses during the medal ceremony for the Men's Singles REUTERS/Weixiang Lim/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Being on the wrong side of 30 in the brutally demanding sport of badminton, HS Prannoy prefers his matches to be short and sweet.

The Indian plans to reach Paris with a "surprise package" as he plots ways to overcome younger opponents on his Olympic debut.

Prannoy, who turns 32 next week, was part of the India team who won their maiden Thomas Cup title in 2022 and claimed men's singles bronze medals at last year's World Championships and the Asian Games.

As so often in his stop-start career, however, a nagging back injury dampened the euphoria and hampered his preparations for Paris.

The shuttler, known for raising his game in big events, however, is at peace with what is beyond his control.

"Some players are lucky enough to get full day of training, some are not," Prannoy told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"In 2022, my body was holding pretty good. After a certain age, it is very tough to find that improvement in your body.

"But we were ticking off small boxes every two-three months. That gave me a lot of confidence, and badminton is always a game of confidence."

Playing a ruthless sport with a battered body, Prannoy said his game had changed over the years after a litany of injuries.

"You are not patient enough to grind out a win anymore. You want to finish it off quickly instead of fighting it out for every point.

"You want to keep it short because you don't want to prolong your struggle."

World number 13 Prannoy has been around long enough to accept the sheer physicality of a sport which demands speed, stamina and strength.

He pointed to badminton's bias towards youth, which is also reflected in the rankings in which reigning Olympic champions Victor Axelsen, 30, is the oldest player in the top 10.

"It's going to be very, very interesting," he said.

"I'm sure there's going to be lots of ups and downs. There could be a lot of big names going out early because the standard is so good."

Prannoy's own plan is to be unpredictable especially in the clutch points.

"Getting into this kind of event, against players you have faced often in the circuit, I think it's very important you have something different in your hand, something your opponent won't expect from you on a normal day.

"Obviously, it's very difficult to develop something very new but I think if you are able to execute one surprise shot in a tight point, it could make the difference."

In a tournament like the Olympics, a shuttler should have more than one string in his bow, Prannoy said.

"Some people come with a very fixed plan for a particular opponent. To throw them off their plan, sometimes you may play some random shots, which may turn a game."

As for inspiration, Prannoy cites Novak Djokovic, who is chasing his eighth Wimbledon singles title at the age of 37.

"He's still beating younger guys, a huge inspiration," Prannoy said.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Ed Osmond)

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