2017 seems to be turning out a brilliant season for the Guntur brothers, Kidambi Srikanth and Nandagopal. Months after Srikanth’s splendid form saw him winning back-to-back Superseries titles in Indonesia and Australia, brother Nandagopal made some noise in Ukraine recently.
The 25-year-old and the older sibling among the Guntur-born shuttlers, claimed the men’s doubles and mixed doubles titles at the Kharkiv International Challenge last week, and expectedly, he was over the moon. While he and Rohan Kapoor had to come back from a game down to beat compatriots Alwin Francis and Tarun Kona 18–21, 24–22, 21–18 in the men’s doubles final, the mixed doubles was a relatively easy affair as Nandagopal along with Mahima Aggarwal emerged winners in straight games. They defeated fellow Indians Saurabh Sharma and Anoushka Parikh 21–14, 21–15.
The titles also ended a four-year drought for Nandagopal whose last triumph came way back in 2013—he has won the Maldives International mixed doubles crown with K. Maneesha and the Bahrain International men’s doubles title with V. Diju.
Interestingly, it was on the same day when both the Kidambi brothers struck it rich four years back with Srikanth claiming the Thailand Grand Prix Gold men’s singles title while Nandagopal bagging the mixed doubles trophy in Maldives. Since then, the younger sibling has been on a roll and is currently the country’s no. 1 shuttler in men’s singles— with three Super Series titles and a quarter-final finish at the World Championships this season.
With Indian badminton on the upswing for some time now, Nandagopal’s performance wasn’t a surprise and rather should have come early, especially after the arrival of renowned Malaysian coach Tan Kim Her in September 2015 that brought a wind of change and improvement in the Indian doubles set-up and results. Nevertheless, his latest achievement ahead of an important season—which has the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018—indicated that he was very much in the reckoning. Now, the shuttler, who is expected to make a move in his rankings from (141st in men's doubles and 190th in mixed doubles), targets the top 50 of world rankings.
“I’m so happy to win both the doubles events in Ukraine. We played some very good matches. Now, we need to win more tournaments to get points and improve our world rankings. In the next three months, we will be playing five international tournaments and our aim is to get into world top-50 by the end of this year,” he told Sportskeeda from Leuven in Belgium, where he is competing at the Belgium International.
Nandagopal and Mahima have been playing together only for the past four months and already have a runners-up finish (Malaysia International Series in July) and now a title together. “We will be targeting a Super Series title next year,” he added.
Nandagopal also acknowledged the contribution of Kim Her, who, the shuttler says added the extra “pace” and improved “his game style”. “Indian doubles is getting better in the world circuit, thanks to the presence of Tan Kim Her in our coaching set-up. He is doing a great job in helping us perform well at the international level,” he said.
With a star brother to back Nandagopal very often, either at the Pullela Gopichand Academy or tournaments, badminton must be a family topic for these shuttlers. However, Nandagopal said, “We are always busy at the academy because his (Srikanth's) practice timings and mine are totally different, his events and tournaments are different than mine. So, we hardly have any discussion on badminton.”
“In tournaments, yes we talk about our matches and discuss how he or I played some times,” the elder brother said praising Srikanth for his achievements. “He is playing very well and I’m very happy with the way he is progressing. He inspires me.”Published 13 Sep 2017, 21:29 IST