Malaysia Masters: Prannoy wins maiden BWF World Tour title

H S Prannoy
Prannoy celebrates on the podium. Photo: AFP/Arif Kartono

Kuala Lumpur: Star Indian shuttler HS Prannoy ended a six-year-long title drought with a three-game win over China's Weng Hong Yang in a pulsating men's singles final at the Malaysia Masters Super 500 tournament here on Sunday.

The 30-year-old Indian showed great composure and resolve during a 94-minute battle to notch up a 21-19, 13-21, 21-18 victory against China's world No. 34 Weng Hong Yang, a 2022 Asian Championships bronze medallist.

The win helped him to claim his maiden BWF World Tour title and also the first singles crown of the year for India.

Prannoy was instrumental in India's epic Thomas Cup victory last year, but an individual title has eluded him since the 2017 US Open Grand Prix Gold.

The Kerala shuttler had come close to breaking his title drought when he reached the finals at Swiss Open last year and signed off at the semifinal stage in Malaysia and the Indonesia Super 1000.

Prannoy has battled a series of injuries and health issues before turning his career around in the back end of 2021.

In the last two years, he has been the most consistent Indian player in the circuit and yet he was not able to weave it all together in a week to win a big title in the BWF World Tour events.

Prannoy celebrates his triumph. Photo: AFP/Arif Kartono

On Sunday, all his hard work paid off as the world No. 9 Prannoy finally broke the jinx, dishing out a superlative performance against the 23-year-old from China in a battle of attrition.

This week, Prannoy gave ample display of his physical and mental fortitude as he outfoxed his opponents -- world No. 5 Chou Tien Chen, All England champion Li Shi Feng and Japan's Kenta Nishimoto -- in three games.

Prannoy's plan was simple: keep up a consistent attack, retrieve everything and wait for the opponents mistake.

The Indian used his angled returns to create chances and his economical court mobility helped him to keep pace with his quick left-handed opponent.

From 1-3 down, he drew parity at 5-5 after lunging forward to put the shuttle away from Weng.

The Chinese stepped ahead but two wide shots meant it was 7-7. Prannoy would, at times, end rallies with a miscued shot at the net, allowing his younger rival to get into leads.

A precise down-the-line smash brought the Indian back at 10-10 before Weng smashed on the net.

Prannoy kept a conservative approach as the rallies extended. Soon the duo moved to 16-16. After missing out on a few net shots, Prannoy grabbed a couple of points before a relentless attack earned him two game points.

He was guilty of giving a mid-court return and it was punished. Weng next sent his backhand to net, as Prannoy earned the bragging rights.

After the change of sides, Weng was 4-0 up after Prannoy went for a flashy return at the net and also hit long twice. A big smash followed by a backhand snap shot got Prannoy going as he moved to a 5-4 lead with a superb backhand block.

In a game of fine margins, the duo tried to play tighter shots and Weng managed to grab an 11-9 cushion at the interval.

Prannoy then hit an erroneous patch, finding the net and also missing the lines, and suddenly, it became 16-10 in favour of Weng.

Frustration was writ large on the Indian's face as errors kept tumbling out of his racquet. Soon Weng grabbed seven game points with a cross court return and converted with a precise return on the backline to force a decider.

In the third game, Weng held on to his momentum even as Prannoy kept snapping at his feet at 6-8. A net kill helped the Indian draw level at 8-8 before Weng ended an exciting rally with a smash.

Another splendid rally ended with Prannoy producing another superlative shot at the net to bamboozle his opponent, as he went into the mid-game interval with a slender one-point lead.

After resumption, Prannoy unleashed his cross court smashes to move to 14-11. Weng produced a precise smash and then targeted his rival's body twice to narrow it down to 13-14.

Prannoy let out a loud cry after a cross court smash, opening up a 16-13 lead.

Looking for precision, Prannoy however missed the lines a few times and another such long shot helped Weng to make it 18-18.

Prannoy kept his nerves and responded with a smash, leaving Weng on the floor. Another magical smash, which just kissed the lines, gave Prannoy two championship points, and he converted it after his opponent hit wide.

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