2017’s top 10 — K. Srikanth: Flexing muscle on the world stage

Toughening up mentally has helped him in his rise, and Srikanth accepts that the change in the mentality of Indian players have helped them in making a mark on the global stage.

From being in the wilderness due to injury to battling for titles on a regular basis, it turned out to be a dramatic year for Kidambi Srikanth.

It was his courage and conviction that brought about this turnaround, and made it the “best phase of his career.”

The Indian male badminton stars, in recent years, have lived in the shadows of their more illustrious women compatriots. For long Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu have been the torch-bearers of the sport in the country.

Srikanth’s rise indicates a steady growth in the sport, across genders.

A workaholic on the court, the youngster from Hyderabad has benefited from his long hours of training at the Gopichand Academy, and higher-ranked players have been surprised by his tenacity on court.

Toughening up mentally has helped him in his rise, and Srikanth accepts that the change in the mentality of Indian players have helped them in making a mark on the global stage.

“It is not just me, it is same with all the Indian shuttlers. We are a lot more tougher mentally now and that is really helping us,” Srikanth informed Sportstar after he won the Paris Masters.

The laurels

Singapore Open: Silver

Indonesia Open: Gold

Australian Open: Gold

Denmark Open: Gold

French Open: Gold

 

‘I’m enjoying my game, now’

The 24-year-old, who topped the BWF Super Series world rankings for 2017, takes us through his remarkable journey.

How do you look back at 2017?

Obviously, it was one of the best runs I have ever had. And it is all the more satisfying as, at the start of the year, there was so much uncertainty because of the injury break. It was a tough phase, but thankfully I got through it and I am now really enjoying my game.

At the start of the year, you were not sure how the comeback to the circuit would work out. Can you recall those difficult times?

Yes, there were serious doubts during that traumatic phase early this year as I had to be away from the circuit and not playing any matches, which is never easy for someone like me who is so regular. Being away from the court was more difficult than losing. But I knew it was all about regaining top fitness levels, and I am glad I could reach that stage.

How confident were you during that turbulent phase?

I was aware that my game would be rusty after a long injury layoff. I knew I had to be patient and not rush things on my comeback trail. The body was not ready to take the training load initially, but as the days passed, it got adjusted to the regular training schedules.

Was there any particular aspect that worried you during this tough period?

No, I was not worried about anything in particular. I knew at the back of my mind that it was all about playing well once I attained the desired fitness levels.

From that unfortunate stage to four Super Series titles…

Frankly, this was the kind of performance I never ever dreamt of. It has been truly fantastic.

Which one was the most special?

Well, all four titles were important, but I would say that the Australian Open was five per cent more special as I beat Chen Long for the first time. This is something I cherish when I look back.

What was the biggest challenge this year?

As they say, to reach the top three in any sport is a huge task, and it is even more difficult to sustain that level over a longer period of time.

What is your frame of mind when you enter a major event?

Essentially, I don’t enter any Super Series giving a thought of winning it. The first objective is to play as well as possible, put in more than 100 per cent effort. Once you do this, the results will be there. At this level, even if you are short by five per cent, you will be left far behind in the race. It is so demanding and challenging.

It is going to a busy 2018. Apart from the Super Series events, there will be the Commonwealth, Asian Games and the World Championships…

It is important to be focused, alert from the first round, and seize the chances that come your way for five days. Being fit for every match will be the biggest challenge.

The role played by Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo…

He has made a big difference to Indian badminton. Mulyo has seen the highest level of badminton for close to three decades. He is a very experienced coach who has handled players like Taufik Hidayat. His training methods are different and demanding. Thanks to him, most of us are mentally more tougher now.

The Mulyo-Gopi Chand pair…

I think the combination of Mulyo and Gopi is the best thing to have happened to Indian badminton. There is a conscious effort to keep improving every aspect of our game, and that has made the training sessions interesting and exciting.

You had to miss two tournaments due to injury...

It was a muscle sprain which forced me to skip the China Open and Hong Kong Open before flying to Dubai for the Super Series Finals. It was basically a sprain in the leg. I am fully comfortable now.

Are you targeting the World No. 1 ranking?

I don’t think too much about it. I always believe, I repeat, that it is important to play consistently. Once the results go your way, the rankings will fall in place.

Your take on the current badminton scenario...

I feel it is the most open era in recent times as there is no single player dominating the circuit the way Lin Dan or Lee Chong Wei did for so long. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day (smiles).