Kidambi Srikanth: A beacon of endurance for Indian badminton
How do you react when you join the select few to have four or more Super series titles to your name in a season? If you ask the 24-year-old shuttler from Guntur, he would most certainly leave you awestruck with only a warm, radiating smile and not much celebration or boasting.
Emulating his idol, Roger Federer, Srikanth says that he derives the ability of keeping his head on his shoulders from the Swiss legend. For a sportsperson, a win is like an emollient that soothes out the pain of all grueling efforts that have gone in the making of this victory. It is these bottled up emotions that fizz out when a match point is conquered.
For some, it manifests in a loud roar, for few others, a tightly clasped fist pump would be an expression, throwing away the racquet in glee or simply going down on the knees with moist eyes would be signature about yet some others. But for Kidambi Srikanth, it only means raising the arms aloft and glancing at the boisterous bunch of fans, thanking them for support with silent gestures devoid of lengthy expressions.
Srikanth in the days gone by, did not take his exercise or diet regime so seriously, or would let his emotions on the court show. Now, however, we have a brand new star in contrast to the one before. One, who has learnt to conquer the tense moments before or during a match.
He stays poised in victory and gracious in defeat. How else can one otherwise explain the sudden resurgence after that excruciatingly painful loss at Glasgow in the quarter finals at the hands of the Korean star Son Wan Ho? Letting that opportunity slip off also meant an addition to the woes of a 34 year old famish for a medal in men's singles on that illustrious World stage.
Srikanth albeit did not let that loss overwhelm him. Picking up himself, he embarked on a journey, the one which was destined to take him near the zenith and how.
In every post match interview of his, the ace shuttler confesses that he barely thinks of the rankings or the accolades. Having learnt to focus on the bulls eye, Srikanth believes in just the present moment on court and about how to tackle the opponent.
After that defeat in August at Glasgow, Srikanth has lost only one match which was at the hands of World Champion Victor Axelson in the quarter finals of the Japan Open. It's been a fascinating run since then. Srikanth conquered his second consecutive Super Series title and a fourth in this year in Paris at the French Open on Sunday defeating Japan's Kenta Nishimoto in straight games.
This win placed Srikanth among the only other three players to have four or more Superseries titles in a single calendar year. The great Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and the two time World champion Chen Long are those beside whom Srikanth's name shall be fondly written in letters of gold in the pages of badminton history. India's darling Saina Nehwal was the only one with three Super series titles whom Srikanth has managed to outmanoeuvre.
I am no analyst, but an ardent sports fan who loves watching her favourite stars and observing how these players manage to deal with failures and find new ways of keeping the fire within burning. In this passion of mine, I discovered the three things that have transformed Srikanth Kidambi into the World no 2.
What has propelled Srikanth towards the zenith?
Handling Pressure situations
Coming face to face with the World Champion Axelson at the Denmark Open again last week, fans were almost sunk in a deja-vu. But we were taken by surprise when Srikanth portrayed a gutsy composure of patience and determination. The Dane, who was looking so comfortable on his home soil clinched the first game 21-14.
Trust me, it felt as if the ghosts of Glasgow were almost here to scare the life out. But it was not to happen. Srikanth looked as if he suddenly had found an exorcist to wean out the scare. He quickly found his feet in the second game. A few longer rallies and our star was soaking in the tensed situations with renewed vigour.
Taking the second game 22-20, Srikanth was mighty successful in squeezing out every ounce of the Dane's energy and confidence. This was completely evident in the third that was almost like a cakewalk. A 21-7 in the decider for Kidambi sealed Axelson's fate who was sent packing.
The quarter finals of the French Open was also a testimony of this trait, of keeping calm in tensed moments. Taking on the defending Champion Shi Yuqi of China after the first game loss was a very scary scenario. The scoreline reading 21-8 in favour of the opponent was something that could subdue even the greatest in low spirits and steal confidence. But for Srikanth it was a test that he took and won with finesse. Staying cool and holding his nerves, he won the second game 21-19. The decider was lightning quick, with Srikanth winning 21-9, which gave him the match.
The impending All-Indian semi final with his compatriot Prannoy HS also brought forth his super cool attitude. Losing the first game 14-21 and then trailing in the second too, he did not loose his composure, and gathered back to win four straight points to take it to a decider. The remarkable revival in the third game gifted Srikanth a fifth Super Series final of the season.
Working on Fitness
Srikanth credits his fitness to his gruelling training in the past 10 months. Moving from shorter training sessions to longer has worked wonders for our star shuttler. Under the watchful eyes of the Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, the one who is known for coaching Former world and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat, Srikanth has been scaling higher fitness levels and being helped in gaining stamina and endurance.
Srikanth confesses that there are those phases when he is lazy to report for training at the academy but the hunger to conquer new heights works as a driving force.
Endurance to injuries and tough losses
Almost five years back since Srikanth's career took flight, he has had his share of good and the not so good. Succumbing to Lin Dan at the quarter finals of Olympics subdued the Guntur boy into distress, so much so that he decided to seek solace into the warmth of family and home. The painful ankle injury that followed during the Korea Open in 2016 added to the woes even more forcing him to stay away from the court for almost four months.
Inspite of being confined to rest, Srikanth gathered his spirits and began training slowly and steadily. This was possible with the all-round support from his coach Gopichand and his family who helped him step on the court again.
Extreme pain often teaches an individual to remain patient. Like they say, some lessons come the hard way and so it did with Srikanth. It has transformed him into a more mature, patient and a humble athlete, whom we all adore.
I recollect reading about that scary incident in the life of Srikanth. In the year of 2014, a rare ailment called meningitis was threatening to take the better of the lad. Enduring the same, it was, however, a long journey of complete recuperation. Am somehow convinced that it takes extreme mental strength to come out from life altering situations like these. Few like Kidambi are successful in taming such hindrances and rise up to conquer the world.
The World no 2, Kidambi Srikanth has proved it again and, how.