For HS Prannoy, 2022 will likely go down as one of the most significant seasons of his career. At the start of the year, he spoke about the importance of acceptance and believed he could be among the top players of the world. And 11 months later, after a string of major achievements, he re-entered the top 10 in the rankings, where he once already belonged.

It all kick-started with the historic Thomas Cup campaign, where Prannoy emerged from must-win matches in the quarters and semis to guide India to the final. He was also honoured with the Arjuna Award and then became the only Indian to play at the prestigious BWF World Tour Finals this year, where he got a second successive win against the red-hot Viktor Axelsen.

As the year comes to an end, the 30-year-old has climbed to No 9 – two places ahead of Srikanth Kidambi and two behind Lakshya Sen. (Update: In the year’s final update of BWF rankings, Prannoy returned to his career-best No 8).

He missed out on competing in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, with both Lakshya and Srikanth ahead of him in the rankings at the time, but he was undoubtedly one of the standout players in Indian badminton this year.

In a conversation with, Prannoy reflected on his memorable season, working on mental strength, the areas he needs to improve, looking towards Olympic qualification, how competition with Sen and Srikanth motivates him, and more.

Here are excerpts:

Would you rate this as the best season of your career?

Every year is different. Things were different back in 2015 or ‘17, the opponents weren’t the same. There is a different set of players at the top now. I’ve never ranked years but yes, this year was a decent one for me. First of all, to play the entire year non-stop, without taking much of a break or skipping too many tournaments was a big achievement for me. The Thomas Cup was a turning point which gave a lot of confidence to me as well as the entire batch and support staff. Sometimes, you need those big victories, even for the support staff to believe what they’re doing is right. So yes, the Thomas Cup triumph did make things a little easier in the months that followed.

You had some major successes this year. What did it mean to you at this stage of your career?

These things happen in an athlete’s career. Sometimes you’re just waiting for years for something big to happen and sometimes a lot of good things come your way consecutively. It’s a thing I’ve learned over time that as a player, you have to try to be happy and content in each moment. Because things can change drastically. It’s about having a good five-six days in a tournament which can entirely change the course of your career. Whenever there have been tough times, I’ve always believed that just one tournament can turn things around. I’m still working on performing consistently. I don’t think I’m there yet, where I can have those solid six-day blocks in a tournament consistently.

This year, there were a lot of times when I was good in the first three-four days of a tournament and probably a little off after that. But I can see the change happening slowly. Hopefully, in the coming years you will see me come good across the six days in more tournaments.

One thing that has stood out in your performances in recent times is the mental strength. You have turned matches around a number of times, like you did in the Thomas Cup and against Viktor Axelsen in the World Tour Finals. How have you worked on this aspect of your game?

In terms of mental strength, I think everyone in the top 20-30 is at a similar level. Probably, a few years ago there were some players like Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and Chen Long who were a notch higher. You always felt it would be really tough to beat them because they were that consistent. But I think now there is only one player who is really consistent – Viktor Axelsen – and the rest of the names keep changing. Every week, you will see somebody else competing in a final. So that realisation is always there, you know you can beat anybody on a particular day. And that goes for other players as well, they know that anybody can be defeated. It also comes down to conditions, certain players are suited to playing in certain conditions. So I think it’s a very, very open draw in men’s badminton at the moment.

Personally, I keep trying to find answers to get better, not just physically but mentally as well. I seek help from experts on how to trust myself more. The goal is to realise how good you are, don’t undervalue yourself, and to show that every single day on the court. I think that has probably been the change in the past couple of years, where I have started believing in my capabilities more. There were times this year when things weren’t going my way but I could shut everything out and focus on what needed to be done. I’ve trained constantly on this and tried to evolve with every match. It’s a learning curve and it’s important to go through those tough moments, to figure out what works for you.

In terms of your game, you were impressive at the net all year. You’ve always been known for your power game but in recent times, your net-play has been a big weapon. How have you brought about this improvement?

If you look at the calendar, I think seven out of 10 tournaments are held in Asia. There are very few tournaments in Europe. So in Asia, there is always a lot of drift inside the arenas. These conditions are trickier and it’s important to tune your game accordingly. It’s very tough to lift the shuttle when the conditions are fast, you have to be extremely focussed on the net game. So your training before every tournament has to be very precise. You’ve been playing on the circuit for 10 years and know what conditions to expect at different tournaments, you know how the shuttles are going to behave. So in that sense, I’ve been trying to do very specific training rather than doing normal routines. And when you know you’ve prepared thoroughly, it gives you the confidence to go for your shots.

This year was a memorable one for you but having said that, you missed out on winning an individual tournament. Does that bother you? Are there any specific areas in your game that you want to improve?

It’s a process, you have to be patient. You have to figure out what works for you and then keep pushing hard. Yes, if you compare my performance to some of the previous years, 2022 was good. The percentage of matches I won went up but definitely, there is a huge scope for improvement... in the mental aspect of the game too. It’s something I’m tying to work on constantly and as I said, there has been gradual improvement.

The next year is going to be big, in the sense that it’s going to be long because even the Olympic qualification is there. There will be a lot of pressure because of it. The one area that I think needs to be worked on for sure is consistency. I have the game to beat anybody out there. I don’t think I’ve been losing to anybody easily, or haven’t been able to match a certain player’s level. The losses have been very close and there have also been some good wins against top players. That means I’m up there and just need to fine-tune certain things. I’m trying to bring about these changes in the practice sessions to see what works well for me, and I’m sure we’ll figure it out in the coming tournaments and then stick to it.

As you said, the Olympic qualification next year is going to be crucial. But are you looking that far or are focussed on the next tournament for now?

Yes, I would say it’s too far at the moment. Of course, every player wants to compete in the Olympics and that is definitely on my mind. But the number of tournaments we have in our calendar is way too much, to sit and plan which ones to play is itself a tough task. You have to even look after your body and be wary of injuries, so the decisions change as you move along. As of now, I’m not at all thinking of the Olympics and just focussing on the next set of tournaments from January. For me, I think it works to keep very, very short goals.

There seems to be great chemistry among the players in Indian men’s badminton, but you all are also obviously competing for the same spots in the biggest tournaments. You, Srikanth and Lakshya are among the best players in the world, how does this sense of competition motivate you?

I think it’s good. If you look at our history also, when somebody starts playing well, the next three-four players also start playing well. This has always been the case because it’s natural. When one player starts doing well, the others know they won’t be in the limelight if they don’t push harder.

There have also been years which didn’t have great results, like 2019. That also leads to a sort of negative energy in training because you know the results are not coming. So whenever someone starts performing consistently, it’s a good thing. Like Lakshya started this year with a number of good results and that gave confidence to a lot of players, including me. It told us that we could also do it. Of course, the Thomas Cup triumph was huge and provided that extra boost. So again, I think this competition is very good. You might miss out on a few tournaments here and there but you have to take that in your stride and look to keep improving. I’m definitely looking forward to more Indians performing consistently, so that there’s a constant bunch of players pushing for the top rankings and winning more medals for the country.