Double delight

Outstanding victory…India’s Kidambi Srikanth exults on the podium with the trophy. To his right is Lin Dan of China, whom he beat in straight games in the final.-AP

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth signal a great day for India by winning the singles titles at the China Open. V. V. Subrahmanyam on the significance of the victories.

It was a ‘Grand Double’ for India, as Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth won the women’s singles and men’s singles titles respectively in the prestigious China Open badminton championship in Fuzhou on November 16.

In the final, Saina, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medal winner, played a near flawless badminton in the first game, and then brought all her experience into play in the second when Akane Yamaguchi, the reigning World junior champion from Japan, tested her, to win 21-12, 22-20 in 42 minutes.

It was a remarkable victory for the star player from India, given the fact that she had parted ways with her coach Pullela Gopi Chand, a former All England champion, and is now training with Vimal Kumar in Bengaluru. Besides, the pressure on Saina following an indifferent run in the major tournaments this year (she has won only the Australian Super Series title this year) was huge.

“To win a Super Series title is always a special feeling, and more so when it happens to be the China Open,” remarked the 24-year-old player from Hyderabad after winning her first China Open title in her sixth appearance.

This is Saina’s eighth Super Series title and it could not have come at a more appropriate time.

However, Srikanth scripted the biggest upset at the 2014 China Open, defeating the five-time World champion and two-time Olympic champion, Lin Dan of China. It was a stunning performance from the 21-year-old, who showed remarkable composure to win the final 21-19, 21-17 in 46 minutes.

It was like bearding the lion in its own den, as the gifted Indian player, a product of the Gopi Chand Academy, tamed Lin Dan with a top-class net game. Srikanth’s strategy seemed clear as he pinned the great champion to the net and repeatedly engaged him in net dribbles. Importantly, it was Srikanth who got the better of Lin Dan, rated by many as the greatest player ever in the history of the game, given his phenomenal achievements.

Srikanth also revelled with his smashes. The way he unleashed a powerful smash straight to Lin Dan’s body to wrap up the first game showed that the Indian was in no pressure against his famed opponent.

The fact that Srikanth returned to the game after a battle for survival with the deadly meningitis and reached such heights was a tribute to his indomitable spirit.

“This is the biggest win of my career, and I will cherish this for a long, long time to come. Honestly, I was not expecting to win, but I was sure that if I play to my potential, there would be a chance,” Srikanth said later.

Talking of his strategy against Lin Dan, Srikanth said, “It was a deliberate effort to keep him close to the net so that he would not get away with his familiar trademark smashes all over. I am glad that it worked wonderfully.”

Honestly, to reach the super series final is itself a great achievement. And I did not think he would win though I longed for that moment. What was impressive about Srikanth was the way he controlled the game, kept his cool and showed great fighting spirit. — GOPI CHAND-V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Srikanth, whose previous big win was at the Thailand Open Grand Prix last year, said: “To beat someone like Lin Dan is not the kind of result you expect very often. I was under no pressure and I just tried to maintain my cool, focus on my game rather than worry about his reputation.

“This is the biggest birthday gift I could have given to my coach Gopi Anna (Pullela Gopi Chand, whose birthday was on November 16 when the men’s final was played).”

Gopi Chand was equally jubilant over Srikanth’s success. “It is a huge, huge win,” he said.

According to Gopi, it was a great day for Indian badminton as first Saina and then Srikanth won the singles titles.

“Honestly, to reach the Super Series final is itself a great achievement. And I did not think he would win though I longed for that moment. What was impressive about Srikanth was the way he controlled the game, kept his cool and showed great fighting spirit. We all know at the Academy what kind of struggle he had to undergo after that being out of action for a few weeks after he fell unconscious in July this year,” the chief national coach said.

To a query why the Indians perform better in the Super Series tournaments than in major events like the Olympics, the World Cup and the Asian Games, Gopi said, “Maybe the pressure of representing your country is bigger than is perceived. But then, to be a cut above the rest you have to be good in all events. We are actually working on this area too to see that we produce a World champion and an Asian Games gold medallist. It all boils down to one’s psyche. The way you shut out certain factors while playing in these Continental Games is more important.”

Srikanth is of the view that his victory in the China Open should make him a different player. “The kind of confidence you get from these wins is bound to have a positive impact on the way you approach the big events,” he said.