Two remarkable statements since Kidambi Nammalwar Srikanth won back-to-back Badminton World Federation (BWF) Super Series titles at Copenhagen and Paris should be taken note of. Srikanth, the fourth player in the world to have won four Super Series titles in a year, said that the days of Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan, if not Chen Long, are coming to an end. Incidentally, the three stalwarts are the only others to have won four Super Series singles titles before Srikanth. With China and Hong Kong Opens still to be played, Srikanth can improve his career record of six big ticket titles, but will take Lee Chong Wei’s record of seven in a year.
Srikanth with six titles is fourth behind Lee Chong Wei with 45, Lin Dan with 21 and Chen Long 17 in all-time winners. That showed the confidence of the Indian who is now World No.2, a ranking only three other Indians share with him, starting with the great Prakash Padukone and Saina Nehwal, who went on to become the only World No.1 from the country, and Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, who is right now World No.2 in the women’s singles.
The other statement, from his highly acclaimed coach Pullela Gopichand, is more startling. Gopi says that the achievements of his ward Srikanth are only the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what else could be in store from Srikanth if this only the tip of the iceberg. We only talk of bench strength when it comes to cricket and at times the strength of the country’s Davis Cup squad. Now you can see an all-round growth the Indian badminton. Not only, his friends and roomies at the Gopichand Academy, Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth and Haseena Sunil Prannoy are also moving ahead.
It was Praneeth who beat Srikanth at the Singapore Open for his own maiden Super Series title and thereafternot only he but the world’s best were at the receving end against him. Praneeth has nothing but admiration for his teammate. He feels that 2017 is Srikanth’s and he is unstoppable. It has not been an easy ride for the Hyderabad-based young man from Guntur. He had to fight hard in the opening rounds in seven of the 12 tournaments h played this year he had to rally to win in three games, but curiously he looked comfortable towards the tournament weekends as only final went to three games.
His one major comeback win at the Denmark Open was against World champion and No.1 Viktor Axelsen. He also had to fight it out over three games against Chinese Shi Yuqi and Prannoy in France. Both the finals turned out to be one-sided, in the Denmark Open against 37-yeard-old Korean Lee Hyun Il and at the French Open, against qualifier Kenta Nishimoto of Japan.
Srikanth’s turning point was Jakarta and from then he has been a completely different player, though the signs were there at Singapore itself in July. His next title came at the Australian Open and then the two European titles from Denmark and France. The best thing that could have happened to Srikanth was Mulyo Handoyo joining Gopichand Academy as the second in command. The Indonesian knew his ward’s caliber as world class.
Seven months ago Handoyo had said the Indian would be going places as he sees in him his own protégé Taufiq Hidayanto. His job was to take him to the next level and how well he did, bringing him back from a low ranking of 31. He honestly believed Srikanth has an all-round game like Taufiq even if he doesn’t impart the same power in hi strokes. It is all soeasy to compare Srikanth with Prakash and Gopichand. What the two veterans did was to win the All-England titles which none of the Indian, men or women, have done after that. The sport has changed a lot and the tour is getting tougher these days and considering that what Srikanth has achieved is stupendous.
Gopichand has the last word on Srikanth: Right now he is the best player in the world!