It’s something he’s been doing since age 6, revelling in his speed while following older brother Kunal to training in Dhar and then at Gwalior. “I tried football and didn’t enjoy. But with a racquet in hand, I just loved hitting the shuttle. Leaving home at 8 was tough, but you get used to it,” he says wryly, now having lived a decade in Hyderabad, shifting as soon as coaches saw potential. “It’s in Hyderabad that my speed, strokes perfection, accuracy, power and body fitness started falling into place.”
With the Srikanth comparison, come Srikanth-problems too. Both rushed and couldn’t contain momentum when pushing the speed throttle in younger years, and barely had the leg strength to control and channel that head-rush of specific talent. “We are still working on his need to control speed. Being aggressive, he rushes and thinks he can reach wherever on court without the ability to control the placement of the stroke,” the coach says. Crucial unnecessary errors and wild hitting follows, though the last few months have seen a marked change.
“Gopichand sir would stand behind and keep telling me to be patient. He’d pointed out the mistake very early and asked me to start meditation because I was too impatient,” he recalls of mistakes raining down on court because he just couldn’t help himself. “Being too fast is a problem. When the shuttle is fast, I’m trying to finish points quickly and I’m at the net suddenly and …” Then he recalls instances like against Belgian Julien Carraggi at the Orleans Masters recently, when he whacked without thinking much and botched the match.
Priyanshu was picked for Gopichand’s Gwalior academy at age 8, precisely because the scrawny kid from Dhar in MP had lightening feet and hands. “He was very thin, but had unbelievable leg speed and hand speed from the net and back – almost Srikanth-like,” recalls academy coach Siyadatullah of the under-10 kid. “Being lean, strength was a problem and he had no power, so he never won anything till under-16s,” he adds.
Attempting to avenge that in the rematch included strict instructions from coaches at the Gopichand Academy to ration his aggression, and earn the right to squeal. “I had lost to Kiran George in that final. So both the coaches and me analysed that loss very minutely. Thoda chillao lekin point lene ke baad hi (pump fists and scream only after taking the point), I was told. Too much aggression isn’t great,” says the youngster, a fan of Virat Kohli who tries a few cricket shots like the icon in weekend matches.