After a refreshing training stint in his home city Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), HS Prannoy felt in great shape as he left for the national camp in Hyderabad at the end of October.
As luck would have it, the world No.28 went down with COVID-19.
“It’s a very different kind of illness,” says Prannoy. “The major problem is psychological. If you feel any pain, you think it’s due to Covid. Mentally, you are very stressed for two weeks, because you don’t know what’s going to happen, and doctors aren’t able to tell you either. My condition never went bad, but you don’t know what it’s doing to your body. I’ve had a weird pain in my ribcage, but everything looks normal on an X-ray or MRI. There are side-effects, and you are on heavy medication, which makes your body weak.”
Prannoy resumed training only in the second week of December, and he’s not looking too far ahead with the Asian Leg set to begin next week.
“I resumed training in the second week of December. You can’t really judge how this is going to act on you. Your lung capacity reduces. I could feel it, when you come back on court. Your lungs don’t work really well, you have to train them again. I’ve taken it slow the last three weeks.”
But while the illness did threaten to offset some of his gains, the stint in Trivandrum over several months had been a revelation of sorts.
Having flitted in and out of home as he pursued his badminton career, Prannoy had little time to explore his native city. Stranded due to the lockdown, the time from March to October was the longest he’d spent at home in years, and it helped him rediscover the seaside city he’d lost touch with.
It was also a time for fresh new training routines, fuelled by beach runs and no limitations of time. He was surprised to find knowledgeable trainers and physios based there, while an academy run by former international Jose George gave him the opportunity to work on his game.
Now, months later, Prannoy concedes that the experience has sparked in him a rethink of his regular training regimen.
“I felt very good. I wanted to do something different, which I wasn’t able to for the last four-five years. There were a lot of beach runs. We have a lot of beaches in Trivandrum. All those things were very refreshing.
“I felt very good when I was in Trivandum. I was playing really well. Every single week was new, and I was motivated. That’s what my mind needs.”
And while he acknowledges the merits of regular training with an elite group, he has also come to see the usefulness of having an individualised programme.
“When it comes to a group programme, you’re spending time doing things that you are comfortable with. I want to play with the group — your game improves when you play with top players. But I also want to do a couple of things that will help my game. So I want to find the right balance. Off court, I need to do something that’s fresh, as my body tends to get bored quickly.
“I always want to train under someone. You can’t take decisions on yourself; you won’t push. But I want someone who understands me, my body and my history. There have to be things that are tailor-made for you, because every player is different.”
Prannoy’s long stint in his home city was unplanned, for when he was home in March, he had assumed it would be another quick stopover. Instead, as lockdowns and travel restrictions became commonplace, he found himself exploring the place.
“I was meeting so many new people and going to new places and getting an idea of how the city works. How badminton is working in the city, and I was pleased with what’s happening.
“I met a lot of new people. I love making new friends, and in Trivandrum I don’t have many friends, because all my school friends have moved to other places. Even to go out for dinner there’s nobody. It’s a bit scary, but this time I made a couple of good friends.”
As for the future, Prannoy says he’s trying not to put pressure on himself; he’s comfortable in the knowledge that he’s worked hard all his career and has the results to show for it.
“The feeling (from the Trivandrum stint) is still there. The one thing is I’m not pressurising myself that this is my last year. You have to stop telling yourself that. Since last year, I’m telling myself, whatever I’ve done so far is good. I’ve always put in hard work. I know exactly what works for me, and what doesn’t. The hard work is always there, on court and off court.”