Lockdown diaries: Run-up to Olympics will be difficult, says Srikanth

Injuries at crucial times have hamstrung Kidambi Srikanth. The threat of the coronavirus is not helping either.

“I am right now in Guntur. With the Academy shut down and all BWF events suspended, there is very little I can do except trying a few things to stay fit,” says Kidambi Srikanth.   -  AP

Kidambi Srikanth must be thinking how true the old adage is — scaling the summit is easier than staying there for long!

Well, this badminton champion was on top of the world, ranked No. 1, in April 2018. Things looked really rosy during that phase. But then, there was a slump, primarily because of injuries.

In an exclusive chat with Sportstar, the quiet and easy-going shuttler shares thoughts of his journey, how he reached the pinnacle and where his career is headed now.

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“Six years before I became No. 1, I remember I was ranked world No. 336. Then, the target was to think of being in the top 300, then in 250, then 200, and so on before aiming for the top 10,” he recalls.

“I travelled to quite a few places after having got hooked to badminton seeing my elder brother play in my hometown, Guntur. Then, things began looking different when I finally settled down at the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad,” he traces his route to stardom.

“The first time I got the feeling that I could be there with the best was when I won the 2012 Maldives Open. It was not a major title when you look at the BWF events. But, that was one triumph which gave me the confidence and self-belief that I could move on and on,” says Srikanth.

How was it possible? What were the major changes that he had to make?

“The year 2017 was the crucial one. For, those 12 months were the best in my career when I won four Super Series (titles),” says the articulate Srikanth. He is the only Indian to do so and join the illustrious band of shuttlers such as Lin Dan, Chen Long and Lee Chong Wei.

“Well, there were no specific changes in terms of my game. But yes, training under Mulyo (Handoyo), who made us do a few things differently, had a huge impact on my career graph,” he points out.

Was it a conscious effort to get to the top?

“Six years before I became No. 1 (in 2018), I remember I was ranked World No. 336. Then, the target was to think of being in the top 300, then in 250, then 200, and so on before aiming for top 10,” says Srikanth.   -  AFP

 

“Definitely not. I always wanted to get better and better. And worked really hard to achieve that milestone which honestly was not my target,” he says with a smile. “Well every player would go through similar phases and I am fortunate to have the complete backing of my parents, elder brother (K. Nandagopal) and more importantly Gopi Anna (chief national coach P. Gopichand) and the entire staff of the Academy who went all out to back me,” he says.

Does he see videos of inspirational achievers or of his own achievements? “Not really. Only if I am playing the same opponent, I will see those matches just to get mentally better prepared,” says the shuttler.

During the build-up, Srikanth also had two of the most traumatic episodes in his life — falling unconscious in the washroom during a training session at the Gopichand Academy and then suffering a career-threatening injury.

“Yes, I am unlucky that way. I got injured every time I was on the verge of breaking into the next stage like during the Nagpur nationals in 2017. But, I always tried to be positive,” he says.

Srikanth makes an interesting observation, too — when you are playing at the highest level, on a different plane compared to the rest, you have to be extremely fit to sustain that level of excellence.

“But these injury breaks were a big curse for me and that really dented my performances after being the world No. 1,” says the 27-year-old shuttler.

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Srikanth also believes that having achieved a certain level, he may have pushed himself that extra bit to stay there. “I don’t believe it was a poor selection of tournaments. It had to do with injuries.

“See the irony now. I am fit and raring to go. But this dreaded coronavirus has put paid to my dreams of participating in the Tokyo Olympics,” he says.

Srikanth, even while welcoming the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to be held this July-August this year, to 2021, owing to the coronavirus threat, feels that the BWF should think of a timeline for the Games only after it starts all the tournaments which were cancelled recently.

“It is a good decision as it is next to impossible to host the Games given the critical scenario across the world,” Srikanth told Sportstar.

“But, again, I personally feel that the BWF should have a serious mindset, once the situation improves and is deemed fit for any sporting activity, about starting the tournaments which were cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus threat,” he said.

“I appeal to the Olympics organisers and the BWF to wait before straightaway declaring the next possible dates of the Olympics. There has to be a periodic, critical review of the situation before going ahead with the timeline,” he felt.

Srikanth with his coach Pullela Gopichand in 2017. “I travelled to quite a few places after having got hooked to badminton seeing my elder brother play. Then, things began looking different when I finally settled down at the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad,” he traces his route to stardom.   -  Nagara Gopal

 

Reflecting on his preparations, Srikanth admitted it will be a difficult phase in the run-up to the next schedule of the Games.

“For the last 12 months you have been tuning your physical and conditioning programme according to the original schedule. Now, you have to reset the goal and plan these programmes accordingly. It is a huge task and a different kind of challenge for any athlete,” the champion shuttler said.

And he adds that it has been a harrowing experience to be away from the sport. During injury breaks, he could at least visit the stadia and mix with fellow players and coaches. That’s not possible now.

“Right now, I am in Guntur with my family members and friends. But I am definitely doing those minimum exercises to stay fit and appeal to all the citizens to adhere to the guidelines of the government and stay indoors till the situation improves,” he concludes.