“Anyone In The Men’s Top 30 Can Beat Anyone On Their Day” – Shuttler Kidambi Srikanth Opens Up After Back-To-Back Titles
It was sometime during the last week of June that I congratulated Kidambi Srikanth on his third Super Series badminton title win, in Indonesia, by which time he had already landed in Sydney for the Australia Super Series. Radiating an air of resolve, the second-most successful Indian shuttler (after Saina Nehwal) asked that we chat after the then-ongoing tournament, almost as if he was nursing the belief that he would repeat his Indonesia heroics Down Under as well. By the end of the week, he actually did it, in the process becoming the only Indian to clinch backto-back Superseries titles, with a stunning straight game triumph over reigning Olympic champion and World No 6 Chen Long. I was finally able to get hold of the World No 11 once he arrived back home. With the same passion to succeed and a single-minded approach to badminton as the only way of life, the 24-year old still comes across as the determined player I first met some three years ago, when he had claimed his maiden Super Series title at the 2014 China Open. He remains shy off the court, and admits that he doesn’t have the time for anything other than badminton, when asked about his current relationship status. The Pullela Gopichand protégé also speaks about the role of his mentor in his career, and the impact of Mulyo Handoyo, the famous Indonesian coach.
How does it feel to become the first Indian to win back-to-back titles?
It feels… I’m just very happy. I don’t really play for creating these records, but to win tournaments. And it’s not even about taking one tournament at a time; I prefer to take it one match at a time.
What do you feel has contributed to this turnaround?
I think after my last injury, I didn’t push myself and that’s why I wasn’t able to play up to my abilities in the tournaments at the beginning of this year. But I really gave more time to my training and to regain my complete fitness. I was forced into a long break when I was injured. I really had to train for three months after that. The training was nothing really rigorous, but we’ve had a few new international trainers come in. So under their guidance, I’ve come really far in terms of fitness.
P Gopichand has been India’s face when it comes to badminton for ‘90s kids like us, and he has also been your mentor all these years. How much has he contributed to your success?
I think the credit always goes to him. He’s always supported me and believed that I can do really well. I’ve been training under him since 2009, and to be able to do so for close to a decade, I feel really lucky. Gopi sir’s produced so many players over the years. We’ve never had so many badminton players from India play at the international level earlier. So as you said, he was the person that we, as ‘90s kids, have grown up watching, and his contribution to Indian badminton is unparalleled.
How different are things with Mulyo Handoyo also on board now?
I think Mulyo’s been at the international level for so long. He has so much experience and has seen so many international players rise over the years. So his experience is definitely helping us get better. It’s like with him (and P Gopichand), we now have two great human minds working in tandem for us to get better in the academy. If you put things into perspective, Gopi sir has had tremendous experience as a player at the international level for so many years, and Mulyo has been coaching players for so many years. So I think you get two different points of view from these two, and it’s really helping Indian badminton big time.
Throw some light on what goes on in a player’s mind during a Super Series final?
It’s simply about playing well in just another match. It isn’t to think that I’m in a final. During the rallies, as it is there isn’t too much time to think about anything else outside the court. The rallies hardly last five seconds on average, and you get physically exhausted; so the concentration is always on the shuttlecock, with the single biggest objective being to win that point. Even if you want to think about anything else, you can’t.
How much has your psychological strength grown over the years?
Psychologically, it’s more or less the same. The strategy is to try to keep enjoying playing the sport and take no pressure. That’s what keeps me strong in the head.
You’ve defeated the Olympic champion in your latest final, against whom your previous record was 0-5. How do you overcome such pressure?
Even if you don’t have a good past record against a particular player, every day is a new day. Every match is a new match, with new conditions. It’s just that you have to be at your best on that given day.
Is there a different strategy for every game?
It mostly depends on the opponents. So depending on who you are playing against, there’s always a different strategy.
How far do you think you have come from your first China Open win in 2014?
I’m simply training to get better as a player every day. And if you have to compare the 2014 China Open win to the Australia Open, both are very important for me. But the latter meant all the more, because it was my second title in consecutive weeks. It’s because it has never happened in India. And globally too, it is considered a rare feat. So I’d say beating an Olympic and World Champion gives me happiness. Of course, I didn’t think of all these things before the match though.
What has your biggest achievement been so far?
I can’t single out one win or moment, because I think every tournament or win has made me really happy. Even if I win or lose, there’s something to take back on each occasion.
What has been your most troubling loss?
It has to be the Olympic quarter final. It definitely was a big loss, but I then thought that it’s not the end of the road. There are many more tournaments to come after this, and if I continue doing well, then I’ll definitely get another chance, at the Olympics 2020.
Is this the best you think you’ve been on the court?
Yes, I’m really playing well now and I’m confident about my game and my fitness.
What are you like off the court? What do you do in your free time?
Personally I don’t think of achieving something. It’s always been about doing well in the sport and winning tournaments. When not playing badminton, I ensure that my body gets the optimum amount of rest that it needs.
How do you wind down off the court?
I really try to go home and take a break. That’s the best that I do. But this time around, I’ve started training already. Most of the time, my minds stays focussed on improving at badminton, but sometimes I just go out to watch movies, although I’m not much of a movie buff.
Are you a foodie?
I’m not much of a foodie, either. We have a set pattern of meals at the academy. There are no cheat days for me.
Do you think Indian badminton is headed in the right direction? What can we look forward to?
I think so many players, including doubles players, are doing so well. We’re really improving, I think, but there’s still a lot more to do. We need to be more consistent and keep playing to our best in every match.
Who do you think are your biggest rivals, both in the country and internationally?
I think all the top men’s players in India are really doing well. Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy, Sourabh Varma, Sameer Verma, P Kashyap are all playing really well. You really need to be at your 100 per cent to beat them. Internationally, I think all the men’s singles players in the top 30 are doing well. Anyone can beat anyone on their day. The competition is more open now, so you really can’t take anything for granted.
What lies ahead for you after your successive titles?
The World Championship in August is what I’m training for next; just hoping to keep the momentum going.