What keeps me going? The will to win: Kidambi Srikanth

What keeps me going? The will to win: Kidambi Srikanth

The 28-year-old tells DH's Sandeep Menon how he had to recalibrate following his Olympic-miss

Indian badminton star Kidambi Srikanth. Credit: DH Illustration

Since bursting onto the scene in the early part of the last decade, Kidambi Srikanth has seen it all — reaching exhilarating highs and plummeting to excruciating lows, badgered by a persistent knee injury and niggles. The 28-year-old tells DH's Sandeep Menon how he had to recalibrate following his Olympic-miss. Luckily for him, it all came together over a week in Huelva, Spain. A World Championship silver, a first for an Indian male shuttler, to add to his already impressive resume.

How does it feel to end the season on such a high?

It's nice to win that medal. In a way, the World Championship being the last tournament of the year, I definitely don't feel like it's the end of a season, because we have another championship. So, it's not like the end of the season, but yeah, it's always nice to be on the podium and win a World Championship medal. It was always a dream for me, so I feel very happy.

I would have loved to win the gold. I tried and I actually think I played well. It's just a few mistakes, a point here and there would have made a big difference. I definitely want to push myself another step the next time I play the World Championship. I'm happy with the way I played and with winning silver, but I want to push myself for the gold next time.

Was the fact that you missed the Olympics an extra motivator?

Yeah... I always wanted to get better and do well and win tournaments. I always pushed myself in every match I could. Because of some injuries, I couldn't push myself that much (during the Olympic qualification period). But then I got better and played well and the tournaments got pushed and cancelled because of Covid-19. I knew there would be the World Championship and Super Series (events). So, I wanted to be fit and continue training. I trained well for 3-4 months. But again, I took time to get used to it and couldn't perform that well the first time I got back. I'm just happy with the way the 8-9 days went for me during the World Championship.

You got tough draws in Thomas Cup and Denmark Open when you were trying to play yourself into form. Did that hamper your rhythm?

I would have loved to play more matches in those tournaments but I was unseeded. So, you can't expect good draws for every tournament. In fact, I almost won against (Kento) Momoto (former World No 1) in the French Open in the first round. I was leading 19-17 in the third set. If I had 2-3 matches before that, maybe I could have pulled it off. I always need to play more tournaments to get the feel, the rhythm of it and the tournament feel. So, I need to play more games. That has helped me during this period (last few weeks) also, I feel. But whatever has happened has happened. I'm just happy with the progress. During that three-month period, I managed to learn something (from every match) and what went wrong. 

A few years ago, you had a knee injury and then some ankle issues. What does it take for an athlete to come back from such injuries?

For me personally, my body took some time to recover. That's fine, everyone's body type is different. It took more time than usual. But it's tough to come back because every time you do a particular movement, you're a little scared because of that injury history and you stop yourself from doing it. But that is the challenge. For a sport like badminton, you have to be agile and quick. There are a lot of jumps. There is a lot of pressure on the knees. So, I kind of took a little more time than usual, but at the moment I am very happy. I feel I’m able to move the way I want. 

You’ve been World No 1 and won big trophies. What is the motivation that keeps you going?

I want to win more tournaments. I won silver at the Commonwealth Games so I want to push myself to win that gold. I want to win a medal at the Asian Games. I won the Indian Open before, in 2019 I lost, so I want to win that tournament and push myself to do that. That is the motivation. The will to win is what pushes any player. I don't really have any offseason now because there are a lot of tournaments (coming up). So basically, just maintain and try and improve that 5-10%, whatever possible, during tournaments and in between matches.

Now you are a senior player and with the success you have had, are there more expectations? Do you feel more pressure?

Frankly, for the last 7-8 years, I’ve been the highest-ranked player from India. Since 2014, when I won the China Open, people started expecting better results and praying and wanting me to do well. That is something I am used to. So, there is no pressure. But I am happy that people want me to perform well. I also push myself and those expectations also give me a push. I take all that in a positive way.

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