Gold Silver Reports — Srikanth Who? – Badminton — Although 2014 was just about me, this time the welcome was bigger and warmer. Ex cept it wasn’t only about me,“ says Sri kanth Kidambi, the shuttler from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, who is ranked 11th in the world. The 23-year-old won the China Open two years ago after beating two time Olympic gold medallist, five-time World champion and current World No. 3 Lin Dan on his home turf. At one point in 2015, Kidambi was one of the top five badminton players in the world. And then came the Rio Olympics in which Kidambi lost to the same Lin in the men’s single’s quarterfinals.
Still, Kidambi has an equal role, along with Olympic silver medallist PV Sind hu, in making badminton the new crick et for Indian audiences -at least for a while. By the time the Indian Olympic contingent came home from Rio, the overarching sentiment in the general public had gone from “Srikanth Woohoo“ to “Srikanth Who?“ Everybody was raving about Sindhu, bronze medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik, and gymnast Dipa Karmakar. The narra tive had moved to Indian girls winning big at the games. It is a well-deserved narrative, but one that conveniently for got Sindhu’s coach Pullela Gopichand’s other student, Kidambi, and his pros pects of being the next world champion.
“Yes, there was a slight difference in the reception at the airport this time around. The whole country was waiting for the contingent to come home but some people had won the medal and I had not,“ says Kidambi. He doesn’t buy the narrative of “women taking away the limelight at Rio“. “There’s nothing with gender in sports. Everyone works hard to win. The winners fully deserve the credit. People were happy to see me but they were disappointed as well. I didn’t finish the game, what more can I say now? It’s over. Nothing can bring that back.“
What’s not over is his career; in fact, it has just begun. Especially considering that he won the China Open roughly six months after collapsing in the washroom of the Gopichand Badminton Academy due to brain fever. A near-death experience, no less. “But even after that I was able to get discharged from the hospital in two weeks and rejoin the academy. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank god for allowing me to play, or Gopi Sir for putting his faith in me.“
How is his relationship with Gopi Sir?
And how has it changed post Rio? “He was always tough on court and friendlier outside. It’s still the same.“ Does Kidambi have a better understanding of his coach after a fair share of wins and losses? “I never doubted him in the first place,“ he says promptly. “You have to trust your coach. You can practise the right strokes only when you trust him.Otherwise, the whole idea of training is pointless. Because when you don’t trust him, you try to do your own thing, and during the game, you sometimes can’t do what you think and, therefore, mess up the whole thing. Your coach really understands your game.“
No one i s always strong at their game, says Kidambi. “We are all improving with each passing match. I will too.The Olympics are over and I have six crucial tournaments in the next three months. I’m hoping to win more, to make up for that one defeat.“
The Rio Nightmare
A defeat at the Olympics is not easy to forget though -particularly when you are tantalisingly close to a medal. Has the QF loss been giving Kidambi sleepless nights? “I definitely don’t think about it while going to sleep,“ he quips.“I do rethink that game while practising on the court -reflect on what I had done in some of the crucial stages. It was a quarterfinal. It is hard to forget. But time passes and it changes things.“
Kidambi lost another close quarterfinal match to Germany’s Marc Zwiebler at the Japan Open two days ago. All eyes are on the South Korea Open Super Series now. He was about to board his flight to Japan when he spoke to this writer. And he didn’t really seem enthusiastic about an interview. “I am bored with the interviews now. Seriously bored,“ he reiterates. How can that be, you wonder.Doesn’t he miss all the media attention that the medallists were heaped with?
“Well, you will be in the news only when you win. You can’t expect people to write only about you when you are not even playing. I don’t expect myself to be there in the newspaper without good reason, and I don’t think about getting featured in the news as such.“
Getting featured in the news is not the same as being on TV commercials though. The latter he likes and is excited about. “If you look at it from a common man’s point of view, everyone imagines being there on TV and doing an ad. So, yes, I do imagine myself there.“ What kind of brands will he endorse is something he has no clue about at this point, though. “That’s why the people from Baseline (the sport marketing agency representing both Sindhu and him) are here -to find the correct match for me.“
It’s the non-related badminton questions that result in unforced errors. “Anything about the game is easy to answer,“ he says. “People have started looking at badminton (finally). There are a lot of expectations now. We have to do the whole country proud.“ — Neal Bhai Reports