Srikanth, Lakshya look to find light at end of tunnel with Olympic hopes fading further

Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen have been struggling to find the form that made them world-beaters.

Published : Jan 17, 2024 23:37 IST , New Delhi - 6 MINS READ

Kidambi Srikanth (left) and Lakshya Sen
Kidambi Srikanth (left) and Lakshya Sen | Photo Credit: PTI

Kidambi Srikanth (left) and Lakshya Sen | Photo Credit: PTI

All Kidambi Srikanth could do at the end of his match at the India Open World Tour 750 tournament was sheepishly acknowledge the partisan crowd at New Delhi’s KD Jadhav stadium. Raising his racquet, he walked off the court with his head bowed.

Srikanth, who has started to appear to be a shadow of his former self, had won the 2015 edition of the same tournament. This year, he fell in the first round to Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu, 20-22, 13-21. His speed at the net and devastating smash seem like traits from a lifetime away.

However, he isn’t the only Indian player in New Delhi struggling to find the form that made him a world-beater.

Lakshya Sen, 2022 Worlds silver medallist and former World No. 6, had also had his tournament end in three games on Tuesday, courtesy of Priyanshu Rajawat, the new kid on the block.

READ: India Open: Satwik-Chirag pair wins, error-prone Srikanth goes down

The duo’s dip in form has been precipitous. Since the start of 2023, Srikanth has won two consecutive matches just four times in 23 tournaments. He has never gone past the quarterfinal. Lakshya, meanwhile, has lost in the first round of his last eight tournaments. The duo’s rankings have, on expected lines, plummeted as well. Lakshya, ranked 10th in the world at the start of 2023, is currently 19th. Srikanth has slipped from 13th to 25th. After the first round exits in New Delhi, these rankings are likely to slip further.

Two men’s singles shuttlers in Paris 2024 unlikely

The pair’s torrid form means that the hopes of qualifying two men’s singles players for the Olympics for the first time since 2004 now appear slim. What was once shaping up to be an intriguing battle to determine a potential second Indian men’s singles player at the Olympics—HS Prannoy, who is steady in the top 10, is expected to qualify—now seems unlikely. The country can send a second player if someone features in the top 16 on the cutoff date at the end of April.

As their losses have mounted, both players have found it hard to grab the chances they have got.

Lakshya took the first game against Rajawat.

ALSO READ: Don’t want to just qualify, want to go as a medal contender: Srikanth on Paris Olympics

Meanwhile, Srikanth conceded six straight points while holding a 17-14 lead and also frittered a game point in the opening game against Yiew. It’s a fact that bothers him, Srikanth would admit after his loss. “I had my chances in the first game. I’ve had my chances in every match. If I took the first game, then things would be different. If I had taken that game at 15, things could have been different. It’s about getting that one thing to click,” he says.

To his credit, Srikanth has gone for his chances. But what would have been a tape-flicking smash a few years ago is now going inches wide. “I’ve been making quite a lot of unforced errors,” Srikanth admits.

“I’m someone who likes to take on points. I don’t like to play safe. The downside is unforced errors. When those shuttles landed, I used to win tournaments. When they don’t, I don’t . If I can cut down on (unforced errors), it will make a big difference,” he says.

Eagerness to get onto the winning side

Lakshya’s coach, Vimal Kumar, says his ward is dealing with the issue of an eagerness to get onto the winning side. “When you’ve gone so long without winning, you become desperate to simply get over the line. So you don’t take your time with your shots. You play hurriedly. That’s what Lakshya was doing against Priyanshu. And that makes winning even harder,” he says.

ALSO READ: Satwik-Chirag: Opponents respect us more now

Like Srikanth, Vimal also believes it’s about getting that one match to turn things around. “It’s true that Lakshya’s hasn’t had a lot of success over the past few months. After he lost here (in New Delhi), he was, of course, disappointed. But I reminded him that he’s not suddenly becoming a bad player. It’s a matter of getting that one win that will get your self-belief back. Once things click, things will flow,” Vimal says.

But Vimal also knows that getting that win that turns around a season is easier said than done, especially when competing at the elite levels of the professional circuit. “At this level, there are no easy matches. There are no easy points. Every match is against a player who could probably beat anyone else on his day. You aren’t going to be gifted that one win that might turn things around for you,” he admits.

What doesn’t help when a player is trying to find his feet in the season is the fact that there’s a deadline looming with the Olympic qualification period about to close in a few weeks’ time.

Vimal says he’s told Lakshya to try not to think about what would be his maiden Olympics as much as possible. “I’ve told him that if he goes deep in tournaments, the Olympic qualification will take care of itself. But he can’t make the Olympics the focus. If it’s meant to be, it will happen,” says Vimal.

Despite Lakshya’s recent form, Vimal is confident there’s light at the end of the tunnel. “Last year was one of Lakshya’s worst from a health perspective. He suffered complications from his surgery (for a deviated septum) at the start of the year. Because of that, he was constantly picking up infections every time he was travelling for a competition, especially after the Asian Games. He was invariably playing in the first round of a competition while suffering from a fever. It’s only at the end of the year that we were finally able to treat the issue. Lakshya’s actually been able to train without the fear of picking up another infection only in the last six weeks,” says Vimal.

Srikanth, too, says he’s focusing on the things he can control. “I’ve already competed in the Olympics (in 2016), and I came very close last time (at Tokyo). I don’t want to just go to the Olympics for the sake of playing in the Olympics. I want to go in as a medal contender. It’s not about just qualifying, but winning consistently. I know that if I lose a few matches and just qualify, it won’t do anything for me. I just want to win tournaments. I know that if I can win some tournaments in the next couple of months, it will take me to the Olympics for sure. If I win, I’ll be there. If I don’t win, I won’t be there,” he says.

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