The TotalEnergies BWF Thomas and Uber Cup Finals 2022 had several instances of ties going down the wire, to the ‘tie-breaker’ fifth match. The Uber Cup final was decided in the fifth; so too were both Thomas Cup semifinals and three quarterfinals.
One figure in recent times has made himself renowned as a fifth match specialist – Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus, who famously won all three tie-breaker matches in the knockout rounds of the 2016 edition to take Denmark to their first Thomas Cup title.
Vittinghus was called upon again in Bangkok, with Denmark and China tied 2-all in their final Group B tie. At stake was the top place in the group. It was late when Vittinghus and Weng Hong Yang took the court; yet again the veteran delivered, winning in 79 minutes: 16-21 21-19 21-18.
What is the key to Vittinghus’ success in the fifth?
In the weeks leading up to the Thomas Cup, Vittinghus was studying the players he was likely to run into. After beating Weng, Vittinghus said: “I have been watching almost all of the matches that he’s been playing lately. I think he’s the guy I’ve analysed the most. I was hoping to get the opportunity in this one. I felt like I maybe even knew his game better than my own.”
How, essentially, does Vittinghus prepare for the tie-breaker fifth?
“First of all, you need to feel confident in your preparation. So that’s the most important thing for me. That’s also why these third men’s singles are the players I’ve analysed the most. Usually, when I play a match in a tournament I maybe watch one match of my opponent’s old games. For this one, I watched three, and we even had our analysis… breaking it down for me for all three matches. (The preparation is) over the last two weeks. So preparation is key. Because obviously there will always be nerves, when you’re going on court in this situation, a lot of pressure, you want to do well for your country and your teammates. So I find some calmness in the fact that I’m prepared. So at least I know that I’ve done my homework. It’s just about going out there and executing. I think that’s also why I could keep calm after the first game because I knew I had the game plan. I just needed to remove all the mistakes. And that’s easier said than done.”
A Different Approach
Vittinghus did not get another opportunity after beating Weng, for Denmark chose Rasmus Gemke against Korea in the quarterfinals and India in the semifinals.
But Gemke was up against a player who’d found his zone – HS Prannoy. A day earlier Prannoy had beaten Leong Jun Hao in the fifth to take India past Malaysia into the semifinals. Gemke couldn’t stop him either, and India were one step closer to the title. In many ways, Prannoy was to India in 2022 what Vittinghus was to Denmark in 2016.
Interestingly, while Prannoy played that role to perfection, his approach couldn’t have been more different from Vittinghus’.
The Indian hardly spent time studying prospective opponents; instead, he was totally focussed on finding his zone and riding on confidence in his own abilities, certain that once he found his ‘flow’, he could beat anyone who turned up opposite him.
After beating Leong, Prannoy needed reminding that he had indeed played the Malaysian a year ago: “When you told me I remember playing him. I watched his video but I generally don’t go really deep and stuff. I just focus on what I need to do rather than what others do. I just need to make sure that I play what I’m good at.”
Prannoy was cognisant of the different kind of pressure that a fifth match entails, but his method is to bank on his abilities rather than contemplate strategy or tactics.
“When it comes to the fifth match, you know, this is the do-or-die match. I don’t prepare specifically as such. I don’t because I know. I know myself very well. I know if I play to my best, I’m up there in the top five of the world rankings and I can beat anybody on a particular day. I just need to be consistently working on small things like preparation, warm-up and all those things. That’s what I’m focusing on right now rather than on the game, the strategy. I think that is secondary for me right now, because, after playing these many years, I’ve realised that I have the game. Otherwise, you can’t beat a lot of players in your journey, and you got to have something in you to beat others. So it’s just that you need to be consistently doing your routine. And that’s what makes you a better player. That’s what I’m doing right now to try and play better. And that’s working.”