He comes across as too easygoing to be a top-class badminton player. But looks can be deceptive, and if his early record is anything to go by, K Srikanth might well be the player to watch in 2013.
The son of a landlord in Guntur, and the brother of another international K Nandagopal, Srikanth’s rise has been impressive. His defeat of world No. 31 Ajay Jayaram in the third round of the Syed Modi Memorial at Lucknow was further affirmation of the fact that the 19-year-old is one of the most exciting men’s singles prospects in India.
The year couldn’t have been better for the lanky lad. After winning four qualifying round matches at the Austrian International, he fell in a terrific encounter, 24-22 in the third game, to Dutch veteran Dicky Palyama. In June came his first international title – the Maldives International – in which he beat players like Jan Frohlich (Cze), Anup Sridhar (Ind) and World Junior Champion Zulfadli Zulkiffli (Mas). The third game of his match against Sridhar was won by the unusual margin of 21-3; against Zulkiffli, who is considered Malaysia’s brightest hope, he lost the first game but bounced back to win the remaining two comfortably, 13-21 21-11 21-16.
“I always have a problem against Srikanth,” Anup was to say later. “One of his best weapons is his return of serve – the way he attacks your low serve and puts you under pressure.”
Semi-final placings followed at the Bahrain International, and – more significantly – at the Macau Open GP Gold in November. In the first round of the Macau Open, he beat one player who has been a nemesis for Indian players in general – Yunus Alamsyah of Indonesia – whom he beat in straight games. After getting past Alamsyah, he scalped Kim Ki Min (Kor), Wong Choon Hann (Mas) and Nan Wei (HK).
His 2012 performances were essentially a continuation of the promise he showed the previous year, in which he reached the quarter-finals of the Asian Junior Championships and the fourth round (pre-quarterfinals) of the World Junior Championships.
Srikanth is part of the new crop in Indian badminton that includes Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, HS Prannoy and Guru Sai Dutt, but his performances thus far mark him out as exceptional even in this bunch. However, the Superseries circuit won’t be easy as his compatriots have found out, and Srikanth needs much more than just raw talent to succeed. He will need greater heft in his attack to become a threat at the senior level. For now, however, the signs are encouraging.