HS Prannoy took 15 years to master the famous ‘deceptive push’

The player wrong-footed Loh Kean Yew with a feint-and-flick at the World Championship

Having watched HS Prannoy induct a bunch of doubles strokes from their sparring sessions at the Gopichand Academy into his arsenal to surprise opponents, former doubles shuttle player Pranaav ‘Jerry’ Chopra identified the latest bamboozler from World Championships as something that flummoxed even him despite knowing Prannoy’s game since they were 13.

The shot in the spotlight, watched on a loop and now part of the glory story of Prannoy’s Worlds bronze is what he played at 19-19 in the decider against Loh Kean Yew in the pre-quarterfinals at Copenhagen last month.

The skill to play that deceptive push returning Loh’s serve, was entirely down to at least 15 years of mastering it, Jerry explains. The courage to play it at a critical 21-18, 15-21, 19-19 juncture though, was reinforced by coach Pullela Gopichand’s diktat to practice just two shots and nothing else in the week leading up to the Worlds.

It would come off spectacularly at the right time, and raises anticipation heading into the Asian Games about what Prannoy will pull off next at Hangzhou.

The adrenaline of pacy, power-hitting from the back court was flowing through the longer rallies, when Loh served at 19-19 in the decider. Noone would’ve expected Prannoy to snap the rally shut at return of serve when booming smashes in longer rallies had been the trend. With his nuanced return, Prannoy paused that speed whirlpool; he stopped time.

It was a short serve coming down the center, and that’s when Prannoy would execute a loopy deception that will be remembered for years to come. The Indian standing behind the service line would take a long, quick stride laterally to the right. The whole momentum of the body and his backhand pointed towards him sending the shuttle cross. To his right, and Loh’s left.

Loh who stands with a side stance had his right leg in front of the left, ready to take the return across his body on the backhand. That’s when Prannoy – his whole lunging motion signaling the shuttle would go right, in a masterly feint – would instead hold the racquet head back like pulling on a horse’s reins. His body going right, the racquet wrist jumping left, he would push the shuttle to Loh’s far forehand, almost blindsiding him with the deception. A faux forehand with a backhand grip, if you like. 

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