Kidambi Srikanth’s moment of history at Basel
A historic first men’s Swiss title for India courtesy the nimble footed Srikanth Kidambi.
In his previous two appearances at the Swiss Grand Prix Gold Badminton Championships, Srikanth hadn’t won a single match. This time however, he made it all the way to the final. Standing between him and the title was the physically intimidating presence of Viktor Axelsen. At 6 ft 3, Axelsen towered over Srikanth. If this wasn’t intimidating enough, the defending champ from Denmark enjoyed a sizeable crowd support at the Basel arena.
A close contest in the first two games
47 minutes into the game, undeterred by the crowd, the pressure of the occasion and his towering opponent – the defending champ, Srikanth scripted a piece of history becoming the first Indian male to win the Swiss Grand Prix Gold. It came after Srikanth warded off a stiff challenge from Axelsen who had leveled the match after Srikanth had won the first game quite comfortably at 21-15.
The first game witnessed opening point exchanges and at 11-9, Srikanth got the better of quick net chord exchanges before speeding away to a 6 point lead and then finished the game with a booming down the line smash. Typical of top ranked player, Axelsen (World no. 6) started the second game strongly with a string of body smashes to take a 7-2 lead. Srikanth strove to ring back the initiative, but a wide forehand cross court landing beyond the tram lines indicated that Axelsen was well and truly back in the hunt.
A leaping forehand cross court, a la slam dunk extended Axelsen’s lead to 11-3. The Dane appeared dominant at this stage. Srikanth clawed his way back to 8-12 with a string of net and back court exchanges drawing errors from Axelsen. But that was to be the last of the Indian’s resistance, as Axelsen, using his height to good effect landed cross court drop shots to take an 18-12 lead. Srikanth appeared lackluster at this stage and gifted Axelsen the game with a back hand push sailing wide.
Srikanth fights back
Just as the momentum had clearly shifted towards Axelsen, Srikanth began game three with a spring in his step. A leaping cross court winner signaled his intent as he got off the blocks with a 3-0 lead. Moments later, an assertive Srikanth took a 7-4 lead with six straight points. Axelsen, not one to give up easily, fought back to 9-9 before a fascinating net exchange concluded with a big Srikanth down the line smash that enabled the Indian to take the lead going into the change-over.
At 17-14 and with Srikanth in the lead, a long rally ensued which saw both players move at break neck speeds across the court. When Srikanth eventually won the point, Axelsen flung his rackquet skywards, perhaps an indication of resignation. Sniffing victory, Srikanth with fists pumped strove home the advantage and Axelsen eventually handed the 22- year-old from Hyderabad the title at 21-14, pushing a drop shot wide.
Creating history aside, the victory speaks volumes of Srikanth’s resolve. Coming into this event on the back of the All England debacle, Srikanth must have felt some amount of pressure. If he did, it wasn’t evident one bit as he powered his way through the tournament to create a new landmark for Indian tennis and in doing so, pocketed his second career Grand Prix Gold title.