By clinching the third Super Series title of the year, Kidambi Srikanth inked his name in the history of great Indian shuttlers. This has also put the game of Badminton on the high pedestal with a new role model
Super Sunday! One often gets to hear this term these days in newspaper headlines and news bulletins. More often the grand finales of major sporting events are deliberately slated on weekends to take advantage of huge weekend viewership. From Indian sports perspective, the last Sunday i.e. October 22, 2017 was a Super Sunday—both in letter and spirit.
The day began with India clinching her third Asia Cup title in hockey as the Indian team defeat Malaysia 2-1. 21-year-old Harmanpreet Singh from the holy city of Amritsar gets awarded for the best goal of the tournament and also being the best scorer as well. In the afternoon, India’s latest cricketing heartthrob Virat Kohli—takes another ‘viraat step’ in his journey to
legend hood. Delhi boy Kohli—makes his 200th appearance in the one-day international cricket with an unbeatable and astounding scoring average and makes another century under trying circumstances. The legend in making now seems to be within striking range of Sachin Tendulkar’s talismanic record of centuries. But while team Kohli’s party were spoilt by the Kiwis, Kidambi Srikanth from Guntur in Karnataka, clinched his third super series premier title, defeating Lee Hyun of South Korea 21-10, 21-5 in the Denmark Open Finals. It was Srikanth’s fifth super series title so far. In the process, he also becomes the first Indian shuttler after Prakash Padukone to win this title.
While the hockey win was again the reassertion of India’s dominance in the Asian Continent off late, the cricket narrative too followed the predictable script in terms- another class batsman coming from the Indian stable and making an irrefutable mark on the global cricketing stage. Compared to these, Kidambi Srikanth’s feat is indeed special.
“We told you naa”, Sportspersons hate this word. In fact, on the basis of the experience of interacting with them over the years, for most of them, it’s one of the most pressure loaded phrases. The year was 2014. Kidambi burst into the international scene by beating Chinese legend Lin Dan in the finals of the China Open. And, from here, he went into the oblivion—battling injuries and the tough road to recovery. Perhaps, the toughest part was when the talented player heard and read the phrase, ‘We told you naa… the victory over Lin Dan was one off thing. He lacks good defense and is inconsistent—two crucial elements to excel in international arena’. Three years down the line, the pressure loaded phrase has started haunting him again. “We told you naa…he had in him to be a world beater. He had extraordinary talent, natural strokes and most importantly—a strong will to excel. It was only a matter of time before he delivered’.
At the same time, it’s also true that between these two stages of ‘We told you naa’ the real character of the sportspersons comes out. The lesser ones gradually become the pale shadow of his/her former self. They wither away. The greater ones keeps fighting it out and working on the weaknesses. They bounce back as the real champions. Kidambi, belongs to the latter breed. More than winning the Denmark Open on the Super Sunday—Kidambi Srikanth sends across the message that he will be the player to watch out for on the global stage in the coming years. Legends like Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long are on the decline. Among the current lot, only Srikanth and Viktor Axelsen have the potential to fill up the numero-uno slot. Both have got 3 Super Series titles in their names this year. There are four more super series tournaments lined up this year. And, if he continues with the same form and fitness in these titles, his will be the strong statement of intent to be the emperor of world badminton in the years to come.
Gopichand, The Master
In sports, there are battles within battles. Some positive and some negative. There is a positive one going on in the Indian badminton. Pullela Gopichand, has proved beyond doubt as to what could be achieved in Indian sports if we come out with a world class institution with the right intent and work ethics. This narrative of the P Gopichand school of thought till date was driven by the success stories of the women champions ranging from Saina to Sindhu for almost a decade. And, now men led by Kidambi Srikanth are doing a serious catching up. Kidambi has already equaled Saina Nehwal’s 3 Super Series title in this calendar year. And, with four more left, there is a strong possibility that he could cross that coveted milestone. His smashing and slashing racquet has done all the talking this year. Country’s other men singles players—HS Pronnoy slaying reputations and Sai Praneeth hitting the peak—are all determined for a greater cause in unison. Indians have truly arrived in the world badminton scene. There is a complete and comprehensive overall package now. The package has got its rich legacy in Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand winning the coveted All England titles. It has got its zenith in terms of the firepower in PV Sindhu winning silver medal for the country in the Olympics. It has got its amazing consistency in the form of Saina Nehwal—winning titles after titles for years altogether now. This present propelled with the amazing power of K Srikanth, HS Pronnoy and Sai Praneeth has got the potential to catapult Indian badminton to an unrivalled trajectory. And, there is now a well oiled machinery mapping and working out on all fronts to sustain this momentum.
Pullela Gopichand now has a co-mastermind in Mulyo Handoyo. The Indonesian man has been a former coach to the great Taufik Hidayat. Apart from them, there are young Indonesian Hariawan, Sidharth Jain and Amrish Shinde who form the part of this core group. Srikanth had his jump smash earlier as well. Pronnoy’s powerful backhand was recognised by his peers. Sai Praneeth with his oodles of trickery surprised the best of his opponents. But to consistently compete at the international level on the basis of these intrinsic skills was not sufficient enough. Team Gopi was first to realise this and they started working with a tweaked curriculum. For instance, these talented men were asked to skip senseless travels—which resulted in exhaustion and first round exits. Instead, this period is utilised in the focused training. Also, for each individual customised training module is devised and executed—with the supreme focus on working on the weaknesses without compromising with the intrinsic strength. The focus is on quality multi feeding. With many Indians at the higher level now- both men and women, there are greater possibilities of hunting in the pack.
With the performance getting better and better—the expectations are increasing as well. Ye dil maange more…is the war cry from the Indian fans. India is expecting a world title from K Srikanth. The country wants All England title from this talented bunch. After Saina’s bronze and Sindhu’s silver, the country wants the GOLD in the Tokyo Olympics. The origin of the K Srikanth’s family is from Ravulapalem in Andhra Pradesh. The family reached Guntur in Karnataka for better prospects. And, the brilliant raw talent started actualising its potential once the caravan reached P Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad. India has many Kidambis hidden in Ravulapalems spread across the country. But these Kidambis could weave success stories with consistency only when we have more and more
centres of excellence run by the sports elder statesmen in our country. Badminton could be the role model for the other sports to ape. What we need to understand is the fact that if we follow the process diligently, as has been the case with the institution like Gopichand Academy, winning medals is a definitive inevitable consequence.
(The writer is a senior sports journalist)