CHENNAI: Kidambi Srikanth has been knocking at the door of greatness for the last few weeks. On Sunday, he overcame reigning Olympic champion Chen Long in the Australia Superseries final. With two consecutive Superseries (where the best compete) scalps in as many weeks, the Hyderabad lad has made it clear that he is game for a lot more.
It was a big relief for Srikanth, who had beaten Korean World No 1 Son Wan Ho in the pre-quarters. “I’m happy with my overall performance,” he said after the win. “Since the time I landed in Sydney, I have gastroenteritis and have had diarrhoea, so I have not been keeping well. But since I made the final, I wanted to continue playing and give it my best shot.”
Many Indian male shuttlers have had the odd big win in their journey, but never have they been able to build on those. In Srikanth’s case, his talent was always evident. The world got a glimpse of it when he stunned China’s two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan in his own den in 2014. When he clinched the India Open — his first Superseries crown — the following year, it was no surprise and it showed in a career-high world ranking of three.
However, at a crucial juncture in 2015, he went into a slump. With the Olympic qualifying phase on, Srikanth exited early in many tournaments and was unable to cope with the rigours of the sport. Questions were asked. Those close to him admitted he was unable to meet the physical standrads. Srikanth was aware that he had to buckle up. “Srikanth was a very lazy fellow. He never worked hard and was a poor eater,” his childhood coach Sudakhar Reddy has been quoted as saying.
When he became the lone male shuttler to qualify for Rio, it was more relief than joy. “It was a dream. I knew it but to actually qualify was a big moment,” he had said. He toppled one of the contenders (Jan O Jorgensen) before losing a hard-fought quarterfinal against Lin. Another slump followed, as he fell to the 20s in rankings.
Having moved up to 11th before Sydney, Srikanth looks good to break into the top 10 again. With the World Championship coming up in August, India will expect a medal in the men’s section this time. He has ensured this is no more a Chinese preserve.