Kidambi Srikanth sets his sights on Olympic medal
In years to come, 2017 will be remembered as a watershed year in Indian badminton history. From P.V. Sindhu’s silver medal winning show at the World Championships to Saina Nehwal’s inspiring comeback to take a bronze in Glasgow or young Lakshya Sen becoming the junior world no. 1, there were several incredible moments to cherish for Indian badminton fans. But standing atop all these feats was fast-court specialist Kidambi Srikanth with four Superseries titles in the season—only to etch his name as the best male shuttler the country has ever produced after the likes of legendary Prakash Padukone and mentor Pullela Gopichand.
The 24-year-old’s red-hot form this year, starting this June, not only earned him titles at the Indonesia, Australia, Denmark and the French Open but has put India within touching distance of China, Japan or Malaysia in men’s badminton globally. With his latest triumph in Paris, his second in two weeks after the Odense triumph, Srikanth became the first Indian shuttler and fourth overall to win four Superseries titles in a calendar year after Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long. In the Indian context, he surpassed Nehwal’s record of winning three titles in single year.
Overwhelmed but not reading too much into the records, Srikanth told this correspondent: “I am very happy with my performance. It’s not about records but what is important for me is playing and winning tournaments consistently. I am currently in my best form and want to continue with it.”
‘Consistency’ is a new word in Srikanth’s book of achievements—he has struggled with his form owing to injuries in the first six months of 2017 until he broke through with his first Superseries final of the season in Singapore. He had lost to compatriot B. Sai Praneeth in the summit clash.
“I think the amount of hard work I have put on in training in the last 10 months is what showing results for me. The focus was on my overall game. I train to become better player each day,” said the Guntur lad, who thumped Japanese qualifier Kenta Nishimoto 21-14, 21-13 in a relatively easy final. He also reached his career-best world ranking of 2 and can claim the top spot with another win in the remaining three tournaments, including the Dubai Superseries Finals where he is one of the top contenders. “Of late, training is something that has changed a lot for me. The new coaches (Mulyo Handoyo and staff) and their style of coaching and experience have been working for us. It’s a bonus,” he said.
What was commendable in all his 2017 title wins was that Srikanth had overcome top players including former World, no. 1 Son Wan Ho (Indonesia semi-finals), Olympic champion Chen Long (Australia Open final), World champion Viktor Axelsen (Denmark Open semi-finals), thanks to his excellent all-round game that has pushes, drives, flicks, net taps and the kill, which only surprised his opponents.
But as the adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, Srikanth’s road to glory was ploughed by years of hardships that had inconsistency and injuries only to see him rise up stronger. From being a lazy kid who used to skip trainings and choosing doubles so that he could put in less effort in court coverage to becoming World No. 2, Srikanth has come a long way. “It’s been a great journey for me, few injuries and then recoveries. It’s really good one, no regrets...
“Injuries are unpredictable. It’s important to get back to 100 per cent and I fairly did well to regain my form. I am really confident and feeling good with my body now. I am looking forward to continue playing well,” said the doubles bronze medallist at the 2011 Commonweath Youth Games.
Recollecting the quarterfinal against the World no. 1 Axelsen, Srikanth admitted that it was a “challenge” to beat the Danish star in his own den. “It was a tough match. Viktor has been in great touch after wins at the World Championship and Japan Open and moreover without losing a match. To play against him at his home country was a big challenge. I was only thinking to give my best. And in the end when I could play 10-15 per cent better than him, I won the match.”
When asked to pick up his best victory in all his six Superseries title wins so far, the lanky star said, “Every win is important to me and every title has its own place. I don't want to compare any match or title."
While the younger of the Guntur brothers is aiming for consistent performances in near future, he said his ultimate dream is to “win an Olympic medal, but I am not thinking about it right now. There's still time for it. I want to just play well and get the confidence.”
Four Superseries titles, a career-best World No. 2 rankings and many records in a single season. Now it remains to be seen how the shuttle ace caps off the remarkable 2017. May be even with the World No. 1 crown?