Sharp net-play makes Kidambi king

Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu have brought many accolades and attention to Indian badminton in recent years, but it is Kidambi Srikanth who is fast taking over as the biggest star of the sport in the country. With his quicksilver court coverage and electrifying smashes, Srikanth won his fourth Superseries title of the year at the French Open in Paris on Sunday, joining an elite list of achievers in his sport. He is only the fourth player — after Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and Chen Long — to win four or more Superseries titles in a year, a statistic that reaffirms the arrival of the Indian as a major force in world badminton. A week earlier, Srikanth had claimed the Denmark Open Superseries with a similar dominant display, with a superb quarter-final win over the world number one and world champion Viktor Axelsen along the way.

Aggression has been Srikanth’s calling card but the challenge before him had been to strike a note of consistency. His latest two victories, coupled with the Indonesian and Australian Open wins earlier in the season, show that he has embraced the factor that separates the champions from the merely good. From being a dangerous floater to one who is feared by his rivals is a journey that Srikanth has made in the course of this year. He had revealed flashes of his immense talent in his previous victories, most notably at the China Open Superseries Premier in 2014, when he defeated Lin Dan in the final. Injuries and early exits had pegged him back subsequently, and a defeat in the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games had shattered him emotionally in 2016.

Under coach Pullela Gopichand, Srikanth made his way back and this year, he has been at the crest of an exhilarating Indian wave in men’s badminton. Apart from Srikanth, H S Prannoy, P Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma have left their marks on the international stage, with India boasting of four players in the top 20 of the Badminton World Federation rankings at the moment. The progress has been carefully charted at Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad, with Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo playing no small role in the Indians’ march. Proper planning and improved fitness form the base on which this edifice is being built, a fact evident from Srikanth’s run of 10 straight wins in 12 days. Set to rise to world number two after his latest success, Srikanth’s story is only beginning to unfold. A medal at the world championships or an Olympic Games is missing from his collection and that surely is in his sights now, with Tokyo 2020 beckoning.
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