All England Open 2018: Can Kidambi Srikanth make use of his opportunities?
This week could become one of the most significant weeks of Kidambi Srikanth’s career. Out of all the Indians, Srikanth has been presented with the most favourable path at the All England Open, set to begin on March 14.
World No. 1 Viktor Axelsen’s ankle surgery-induced withdrawal from the prestigious tournament has opened up opportunities further for the Guntur-born shuttler. He can even dream of becoming the new No. 1 the next week, should he get to lift the trophy.
Can he grab his chances? We take a look:
His first two rounds are what should give him enough time to warm up for the bigger battles ahead. He starts off against the 23rd ranked Brice Leverdez of France. A win would pit him against the former Commonwealth Games silver medallist Rajiv Ouseph.
Both of these opponents are capable of causing upsets, so the top Indian cannot afford to relax at all.
Eighth seed Chou Tien Chen should be the first real worry for the Pullela Gopichand protégé. Srikanth lost his last two matches to the Chinese Taipei ace, with his most recent defeat coming at the Dubai World Superseries Finals in December.
In the semi-finals, he should be up against either the six-time champion Lin Dan or the four-time champion Lee Chong Wei. No matter how daunting the task sounds, a win is not entirely impossible.
The two are in the twilight of their careers and are not consistent of late. While Srikanth has a win over the Chinese legend, he has never beaten the Malaysian ace. And this should perhaps be the best time for the Indian to open his account against Lee.
In the final, Srikanth is likely to face the reigning Olympic champion Chen Long or the fifth seed Son Wan Ho or the seventh seed Shi Yuqi. The Indian has beaten all three of them before.
If Srikanth can bring forth his 2017 form, then he can do wonders in Birmingham. It remains to be seen which version of Srikanth turns up at this elite tournament.
Record at All England Open
Srikanth’s record at this mega event is a shabby one. Out of his four appearances, he has lost in the first round as many as three times, with his best result being a second round loss to Kento Momota in 2016.
Record in 2018
Srikanth has taken some time to get into the groove at the start of the 2018 season. It resulted in a shock second round loss at the India Open.
However, if his performance in his last match is anything to go by, then he is very much on the right track. After struggling to find his feet initially, Srikanth decimated the World No. 6 Shi Yuqi in the final game in his 14-21, 21-16, 21-7 win at the Badminton Asia Championships.
His attack and exceptional speed of play have always been his forte. Once Srikanth starts believing in himself, he pretty much remains unfazed by whatever challenge the opposition throws at him. It was evident last year when he conquered the Indonesia Open, the Australian Open, the Denmark Open and the French Open.
At the Denmark Open quarter-finals, Srikanth looked on his way out and was just two points away from a defeat when he mustered the courage to stun the home favourite Axelsen in a mind-boggling win. In the final game, the World No. 1 simply had no answer to Srikanth’s barrage of strokes and slumped to a 21-14, 20-22, 7-21 loss.
If Srikanth can really get going, it is very hard to stop him.
His slow starts can be a cause of botheration. He suffered from it against Son Wan Ho in the quarter-finals of the World Championships. Even though he found his rhythm towards the end of the match, it was too late by then and he could not recover.
Srikanth has another characteristic which has caused him harm in the past. He suddenly goes into a period of lull where he simply cannot connect with the shuttle. It cost him a chance to win the Singapore Superseries title last year against Sai Praneeth.
Having led the final for more than half the match, his lack of sharpness out of nowhere was inexplicable. Srikanth has to ensure he does not repeat any of these if he wants to taste glory at the All England Open this week.