How Pullela Gopichand got HS Prannoy to pull off the deceptive push

The courage to play a deceptive push at 19-19 to the lines came from a beaming face sitting behind Prannoy – no one was happier than Pullela Gopichand who was the starting point of it all.

Speaking in the mixed zone after beating Loh, Prannoy would say about the feint, “Before coming for the World Championships, we had a week’s time and all we did was practice a few shots.”

The seeds of the dazzling deception at 19-19 were sown two Sundays before the Loh Kean Yew match, when Prannoy lost to Chinese Weng Hong Yang in the Australia Open final after leading 20-16. Gopichand had watched him on the brink of victory, before the Chinese snatched away the match. Prannoy would wonder later about playing it too safe while closing out, and losing the plot.

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“He should’ve been brave to play a couple of new shots. Played deception, challenged Weng at the net. He was too passive, comfortable taking initiative from the back. Must be courageous from the front court,” Gopichand had said post the final.

For one week thereafter ahead of his biggest week, Prannoy trained only in two shots – that deceptive push, and a counter-dribble. In that Australia final as Weng closed in on him in the decider, Gopichand had told Prannoy: “Bloody hell, play the deceptive push.” Prannoy would plead with him that he didn’t have the confidence to pull it off. So Gopichand would pack him off on one-week exclusive stroke-specialist training for the next few days. At the heart of it was the absolute trust Gopichand had in Prannoy to eventually pull it off, and that Prannoy had in the coach to guide him accurately.

“When he played it against Loh, it was instinctive,” the coach would say later crediting his player. Sitting behind, he had the brightest ‘I knew it’ smile that didn’t leave his face for a long time after the score read 20-19.

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