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February 05, 2018

Simply Srikanth!

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Image Courtesy: Getty Images

In the last quarter of 2017, his fourth Superseries title of the year put Kidambi Srikanth in the world number two spot. The soft-spoken badminton player talks to us about courting success

In October last year, the 25-year-old bags his record fourth Superseries title of the year, the French Open Superseries — an achievement that propels the shuttler from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, to a career-high world number two spot in the badminton men’s singles rankings that are released soon after. When I interact with Kidambi Srikanth a few days later, the player impresses with his appealing modesty. On his recently acquired spot in the sport, he says, “It has happened one step at a time. I set achievable targets, which helped me to focus and train harder. I do not run after positions, but it did feel good to be up there. Now, after my success, people recognise me — however, that is not just because of me alone. It is because badminton as a sport is growing. But, all of us as players have to perform and do consistently well. Only then will things get better.”

Interestingly, Srikanth, who dreamt of becoming a director when he was a child — he has been quoted as saying that he would make up stories to tell his friends — put that dream on a back-burner to follow a career in badminton. Hailing from an agricultural family, his entry into the world of shuttlecocks was made easier by his elder brother Nandagopal’s foray into the sport. Srikanth joined the sports academy of Andhra Pradesh in 2009, and later, after an initial rejection, got admission into the Pullela Gopichand Academy.

Going back to his younger days, the player says, “I was not really naughty, but I was lazy. I was not disciplined and there were days when I had to drag myself to complete both my studies and my training. And when I left to go and live at the academy, I missed the comfort of home and my mother’s cooking. But after I joined the academy, things changed drastically and I began to get serious.”

Naturally, Srikanth owes his present position and presence in the world of sports to his parents — KVS Krishna and Radha Mukunda — who took the leap of faith to invest in their sons’ play. His mother reportedly told him — and his brother — that whatever they chose to do, studies or sport, they should do it with seriousness. He states, “When I first started playing badminton, it was not a very popular sport. They believed in me and let me become a professional player. Without their support, nothing would have been possible. I do not really know what went through their minds while taking this decision, but both Nandagopal and I are really happy that we are able to do what we want.”

I ask Srikanth if the aggression that is needed on court comes naturally to him. He admits, “Though I am not like that in real life, I am aggressive on court. It is not difficult for me to get into that mode. Earlier, I would scream a lot while playing. But, as I have matured as a player, I do not show as much emotion as I used to. I soon realised that if I do too much of that, I lose control of myself while playing. And that is not a good thing for my game.”

Wins and losses are a part of any sport and he believes in taking both in his stride. He says, “I don’t really celebrate too much after a win and I don’t really cry after a loss. I take both easily.”

Srikanth has dabbled in both the singles and doubles formats. It was his coach Pullela Gopichand — someone who has shaped his career greatly and a man Srikanth looks up to — who nudged him into opting for singles, having spotted the potential in the boy. On his personal preference, Srikanth opines, “I enjoy my singles games. Earlier, I loved to play doubles because I could manage perfectly without having to train too hard. In singles, you don’t have anyone else to rely on to win. If you play well, you win; if you play badly, you lose. It is that simple. You definitely have to work harder to win though!”

An individual sport is a lonely field as it normally entails long travels and stints away from home. Although comfortable travelling with fellow players, he says his brother is a constant source of support. On the circuit — and even otherwise, except on cheat days — he tends to avoid sugar, although he admits, “It is difficult for me to stick to a very strict diet for long.”

When I ask him to highlight what his strengths as a player are, he points out, “Strategy is the most important when you are playing because badminton is as much a mind game as it is a physical sport. Although I may not be able to read an opponent’s mind, I am somehow able to know what he is planning next.”

In the New Year too, Srikanth’s calendar is dotted with tournaments. He says, “After a tournament, I prefer to take some rest before the next match. This happens best when I am in Hyderabad. I do take my Sundays off. And when I am playing, I do not let anything come in between me and my game. But on off days, most of the time, I love doing nothing. Or else, I go out and watch some movies.”

He is poised to begin the year with the Perodua Malaysia Masters 2018. And the year, we hope, will see the ace shuttler in winning mode across courts!

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