Srikanth: From a sparring partner to a world beater

At the turn of the decade, Babu used to engage a young Srikanth and Sourabh Verma as sparring partners for Saina Nehwal, who was then soaring high in the sport. Nobody expected him to get this far...

Kidambi Srikanth (centre), flanked by badminton coach P.U. Bhaskar Babu (left) and former four-time National champion Chetan Anand. The Indonesia and Australian Open champion had visited Babu's academy in Hyderabad's outskirts last year, despite a stress fracture in the foot.   -  Special Arrangement

Kidambi Srikanth had stayed true to his roots, even in his most euphoric moments. Shortly after his latest triumph Down Under, he responded in minutes to a congratulatory message from coach Palanki Udaya Bhaskar Babu.

His reply was short, sweet and swift. “Thank you Sir,” responded the champion shuttler. The Ravulapalem-born battler had sent an identical reply to his mentor after his Indonesia Open victory..

At the turn of the decade, Babu used to engage a young Srikanth and Sourabh Verma as sparring partners for Saina Nehwal, who was then soaring high in the sport. “Srikanth attacked a lot,which proved quite advantageous for Saina,” the ex-Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach told Sportstar.

“Nobody really expected him to get this far,” he reminisced. Srikanth's attacking style called for a lot of endurance and the experienced trainer had secretly nursed doubts about how long he would be able to grind it out in a gruelling game. Over time, the budding badminton star watched, learned and wondered why he couldn't achieve as much as his peers did.

Last year, despite hobbling with a stress fracture in the foot, Srikanth visited Babu's newly-opened academy in Hyderabad's outskirts, accompanied by National coach Pullela Gopichand. “Most sportsmen would have shied away, citing injury. But he took the trouble to actually make it,” Babu fondly recalled.

How would Babu, with over three decades of coaching behind him, explain Srikanth's transformation from the mild-mannered gent off-court to an aggressive combatant on it ? “He's genuinely humble and maintains good relations with every one. Nil negativity outside converts to positive energy on court,” he explained.

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