Srikanth on top of the world

Indian ace clinches number one ranking

Srikanth on top of the world

Kidambi Srikanth on Thursday became the first Indian man to achieve the World No 1 ranking in badminton.

The 25-year-old is the second Indian after Saina Nehwal (2014) to rise to the helm of world badminton. Legendary Prakash Padukone was considered the World No 1 in 1980, but there were no official rankings at that time.

Srikanth had a stellar 2017 during which he clinched four Super Series titles in Indonesia, Australia, Denmark and France. He had a shot at the World No 1 rank at the year-end but a foot injury put it to rest.

However, with Viktor Axelsen of Denmark losing 1660 points as he was sidelined following an ankle injury which required surgery, it opened the door for Srikanth again. As the Dane continues to be out of action, Srikanth, with a total of 76,895 points, grabbed the first spot. Axelsen, with 75,470 points, has slipped to the second.

"I'm definitely delighted to have achieved the World No 1 ranking for the first time and to become the first Indian man after Prakash sir to achieve this. It's a testament to the hard work of Gopi sir, my family, my other coaches and support staff, my team GoSports Foundation, my sponsors, and everyone else who has believed in me over the years," said Srikanth.

A product of the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy, where he followed in the footsteps of his elder brother K Nanda Gopal, Srikanth had begun as a doubles player. However, Gopichand found in him the talent to be a good singles player.

Gopichand termed it a "significant accomplishment" for men's badminton. "To think that we could have World No 1 in men and women is fantastic. It was not something we had thought when we had started. I hope it would encourage many youngsters," Gopichand told DH from Gold Coast, the venue of ongoing Commonwealth Games.

Talented but often considered lazy, Srikanth rose to prominence by clinching the 2013 Thailand Open GP title. However, it was only in 2017 that he could give full play to his potential. Gopichand believes he is now a "matured" shuttler.

"Also, he has an increased responsibility towards the sport today. So his progress has been good. He is still very young and has the potential to achieve more. I hope he keeps at it and wins many more tournaments. It is a great achievement for him and men's badminton," he said.

Former national coach U Vimal Kumar, under whose guidance Saina became the World No 1, also called it a "creditable" feat. "Srikanth is at the peak of his career. I have noticed a marked change in him. Earlier, if things didn't work out for him, he would crack. But now he is able to play all-round badminton and is in control of rallies. He, however, should work more on his consistency and look to win at bigger events such as World Championships and Asian Games," Vimal told DH.

The fact is not lost on Srikanth. "It's been a great year, but I have many more goals and right now, my focus is on coming good at the big events and achieving many more milestones. The Commonwealth Games is on, and this year also holds the Asian Games. My target is also to do my country proud at the Tokyo Olympics in two years' time," he said.

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