There wasn’t much of a celebration as the final shot crashed into the net. But Kiran George lapped up every ounce of confidence that would come his way as he managed to pull off a 21-12, 21-15 upset win over world No 9 HS Prannoy at the 84th Senior National Badminton Championships, at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune on Saturday.

“A really good win for me. He’s the top seed of the tournament, so beating him here is a big boost for me,” George said after the match.

“Both of us know each other’s games. It’s not easy, he’s a very good player. I knew his game because I’ve played him twice before. But international level it’s totally different with the drift, it’s so hard to play. But this was a confidence booster.”

George had earlier Prannoy at the 2021 Orleans Masters too in a three-game thriller.

India's men's singles rankings as of Feb 21

12 Lakshya SEN
19 KIDAMBI Srikanth
47 Sameer VERMA
53 Kiran GEORGE
57 PARUPALLI Kashyap
58 Priyanshu RAJAWAT
65 Meiraba Luwang MAISNAM

The 23-year-old has, for years, been knocking on the doors of breaking into the higher echelons of the sport. In his recent Shuttle Zone column for Scroll, Shlok Ramchandran had written that he saw Lakshya Sen, Priyanshu Rajwat, and Kiran George spearheading India’s future Thomas Cup campaigns.

And George hopes the win on Saturday will help him push his game to a level he has never been before.

“My short-term goal is to get into the top 32,” said George, currently ranked 53 in the world. “I need to improve my defence more to be able to compete in the top 15-level. I need to keep working on my game, it’s a long way to go.”

George’s highest ranking so far is 43, achieved last month. He had his biggest title win last year at the Odisha Open Super 100, defeating Rajawat in a rollercoaster summit clash.

Inspiration though, is not too far for him to find, as he trains at the Prakash Padukone Academy where Lakshya Sen, currently ranked 12th but who had reached as high as world No 6, also trains.

“It’s a good thing for us also in the academy to have a top 10 player in the academy. Once there is someone reaching that level it’s a matter of (inspiration) for us also to get there,” he added.

Being close to Sen though does give him an insight into what it’s like to compete at the top level.

“They don’t give away easy points. In the top 30, nobody really gives away free points. It’s really different there. Everyone plays to win, there is the hunger, from the get-go it’s tough,” he added.

Beating Prannoy though, he asserted, will help him push deeper at the Nationals. It’s a mere stepping stone to get to the recognition of being a top Indian player – of the same calibre as the ones (including Prannoy) who helped India win their first ever Thomas Cup title last year.

Personally, George looks to be a part of that structure. Being world champions in the men’s team event is a shot in the arm for youngsters like him.

“We have the best team in the world right now. That’s a good thing. I hope to be a part of it,” he said.

At the same time though, he lamented that the impact of the win last year was not as great as what he had hoped it would be.

“It’s not the way it should have been. It should have been bigger. Thomas Cup is like the equivalent of the cricket World Cup, but still it’s getting better, it’s improving.”

For now though, in Pune, he’s found a spring in his step.