Epic Australian Open Dogfight Will Only Make Prannoy Stronger

It was around 10pm in Sydney when I got HS Prannoy on the line. Even before I could say something, I heard him laugh. No words. I could sense that he was very well aware of the reason behind the call, and saw the irony behind it. He was out for dinner with the team, and when I said it was one of those days in sport, which we will never be able to get our heads around, Prannoy found his voice. “Thank you,” he said. “It means much.” And I could hear him laugh again.

He was still in pain, and clearly hadn’t come to terms with it. He had played his heart out and, at 19-14 in the decider, could smell the title. And then it all went south, including a 71-stroke rally which saw both gladiators lying flat on the court. Neither deserved to lose. The fightback from Weng Hongyang, his Chinese opponent, was all about grit and determination, and the doggedness from Prannoy was further evidence of how good he is at the moment. “If you can play for three consecutive weeks with this level of intensity, there is clearly something right that you are doing,” said Pullela Gopichand. “It speaks of an excellent work ethic.” Gopi was doing all he could to keep things in perspective. “Look, we won a close second game so it is not as if all luck was against us,” he said. “In sport, it evens out. Better now than at the World Championships or the Asian Games.”

No, it is not about luck. It is just sport. The beauty and cruelty of sport all rolled into one. Agony for Prannoy and ecstasy for Weng. Both exhausted after a marathon with nothing left in the tank. Had Prannoy made it to 20 with a two or three-point lead, it would have been match over. But then, that’s alternative history. That’s reel. Sport is all about the real. Raw and painful. And the reality is that Prannoy lost his five-point lead and lost the decider 20-22.

Also Read: Self-Belief the Key to Prannoy’s Climb up the World Rankings

When I said to him that he would only emerge stronger, I could sense he knew I was trying to make him feel better. On a day like this, there was nothing that one could say to Prannoy that could make him feel good. It is just not possible, and that’s why sport is what it is. Raw emotion that can make or break you. It teaches you how to lose. And emerge stronger. Prannoy will surely come out stronger from what happened today. A better player and a better individual. “He now knows he can play these highly physical matches all week, and his body will hold up,” said Gopi. “One match here or there isn’t the issue. You should look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is that HS Prannoy is right up there with the best. He can challenge anyone in the world and in bigger tournaments, that’s what you want your best players to do.”

There is a picture that you don’t really want to see doing the rounds on social media, of Prannoy on the podium. It has him face down, standing with his medal, as if to suggest that he just did not want to be there. Seeing the picture, I remembered what Sachin Tendulkar had said to me after his return from South Africa at the end of the 2003 World Cup. Tendulkar had scored 673 runs in the tournament, and was the Player of the Competition. He had been presented a golden bat as the prize, and what’s more, it was handed over by Sir Garfield Sobers. But to Tendulkar, it did not matter. The trophy that mattered was in the Australian dressing room, and he was in no mood to celebrate the runner-up effort. It was the very same with Prannoy last night. But then, Tendulkar did not give up. He fought for eight more years to fulfil his dream of winning the World Cup. Prannoy will know he has a real chance of winning an Olympic medal in Paris. If his body holds up and if he can stay fit, he is as good as anyone on the circuit at the moment. “Yes, he has a chance,” said Gopi. “If things go well with his fitness, he can surely have a crack at an Olympic medal.”

That’s the big picture. The Australian Open fight will define Prannoy and take him higher. It is not about the defeat. Rather, it is about the fight. The effort and the struggle. If the process is right, which in the case, there is nothing that can stop Prannoy in the future. He knows it, and Gopi knows it too. Maybe the laughter did mean something after all.

Also Read: Sindhu and her New Coach Need to Channel the Spirit of 2016

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