Kidambi Srikanth's roller-coaster ride in world badminton

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Kidambi Srikanth's roller-coaster ride in world badminton

After topping the BWF ranking chart in April, Kidambi Srikanth's performance graph in 2018 following the Commonwealth Games has nosedived and traversed unseen troughs. Srikanth ended the CWG with a silver medal after losing to Lee Chong Wei in the final, despite defeating him in the team event.

Sports and life are great levellers and Indian shuttler Kidambi Srikanth is someone who has recently experienced that. The Guntur boy was at the zenith of his career during the Commonwealth Games in April as he was ranked world number one after some breathtaking performances in 2017  in the lead up to him being ranked number 1. From being an unknown name to a serious threat, Kidambi used to punch above his weight but has now gone on to being the 'slayed one' from the 'giant slayer' that he was. His rankings continue rolling down in a dubious free flow and currently after the loss in the quarters of China Open, he finds himself at 8th spot in the BWF world rankings and a hapless 31 in the tour rankings.

Srikanth had tasted unchartered success in the year 2017. His talismanic form saw him win s many as four super series titles that placed him at the second position of the BWF rankings by the end of the season. The glorious year, quite interestingly, had started with a loss at the hands of lower-ranked Sai Praneeth in the semi-finals of Syed Modi International Badminton Championships and an exit from round of 16 of the German Open against Chen Long. Srikanth had also failed miserably in the All England Badminton Championships as he lost in the first round of the championship to Zhao Junpeng and then crashed out of the India Open after losing to Danish shuttler Viktor Axelsen in the second round.

The 25-year-old shuttler's first success last year came when he entered the final of the Singapore Open but compatriot Sai Praneeth again scored over him to bag the title. Srikanth's dream run started only in the Indonesian Open where he reached and won the final against Japan's Kazumasa Sakai to become the first shuttler from India to do so. His dream moment came in the next super series - Australian Open - when the Indian shuttler thrashed reigning Olympic champion Chen Long in straight games in the finals to clinch his second consecutive super series title. In the process, he also became the first Indian to qualify for the finals of three consecutive super series.

Though he couldn't carry his form into the World Championship and bowed out in the quarter-finals, he went on to create history by being the Indian shuttler to win the Denmark and French Open titles. His back-to-back titles saw the Andhra boy getting the better of some of the world's best like Viktor Axelsen, Shi Yuqi etc. Srikanth was unable to participate in the China Open as he suffered a leg injury just before the Super Series in November and had to remain satisfied with world number two at the end of 2017 after he lost all his games in the season-ending World SuperSeries finals in Dubai to Viktor Axelsen, Chou Tien Chen and Shi Yuqi.

Back-to-back wins in the calendar year 2017 along with poor performances of some quality players and the absence of Japanese shuttler Kento Momota due to his ban after the gambling saga, had allowed the young Indian to rise above many others and finish the year as the second best shuttler in the world. Momota was out of the super series competitions till July last year as he was caught gambling and was serving a ban from 2016. Had Srikanth played the China Open, there was a greater chance of him finishing the year at the top of the rankings chart.

The beginning for Srikanth this year has been nothing to write home as he lost in the round of 16 of the India Open to unfancied Iskandar Zulqarnain of Malaysia while Huang Yuxiang got the better of him in the round of 16 at the All England Badminton Championships.

Post that, Srikanth became world number one during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in which the Indian mixed team event bagged a gold and Srikanth finished second in his individual men's singles event. He replaced Axelsen at the top of the rankings in the same month of April with a total of 76895 BWF points. The lad from Andhra Pradesh won against some of the tougher opponents including Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in the Mixed Team event and England's Rajiv Ouseph in the semi-finals of men's singles. However, Chong Wei made amends as he won the finals of the singles event against Srikanth.

Meanwhile, his performance after the CWG has drastically slumped. He lost to Kento Momota in the first round of the Indonesia Open and his poor form also affected the Indian badminton contingent in the Asian Games where he lost to Anthony Ginting of Indonesia in the team event and lost in the second round of the men's singles to Wong Wing Ki Vincent of Hong Kong. He also returned empty-handed from the Asian and World Championships as well. He reached the semi-finals of Malaysia Cup but lost it to Momota in the semi-finals, once again. He could only qualify till the quarters of the recently-concluded Japan Open and China Open. Dong Lee got the better of him in the Japan Open while Momota defeated him in China. The semi-final that he played in Malaysia Open has been the only highlight for him on the tour this year.

Both Axelsen and Momota are in top form this year so far, and a few others in top 10 of the rankings have exhibited great skills throughout the year while Srikanth has lagged behind because of his continuous drop in his form and lack of quality performance in of the super series competitions.  On the other hand, it is believed that the technique of switching Srikanth from his natural aggressive play to the defensive mode hasn't quite helped him this year. Earlier, national coach Pullela Gopichand had made adjustments in his style of play last year and explained about the difference from 2016.

"When you are physically fitter, you do not mind being patient on court. You are more confident about playing longer rallies instead of rushing in with an out-and-out aggressive game. That is the difference you now see in Srikanth's game vis-a-vis 2016,” Gopichand had said a year before.

The year 2018 has been a packed year for the Indian shuttlers as well. Most of the Indian shuttlers are playing back-to-back super series in this year which is taking a toll on his body as well. He had to sit out of the Thailand Open due to injury and his doctor advised him to take rest and recover from his ankle injury properly that led to him missing the prestigious Thomas and Uber Cup earlier this year as well. Injury is a major concern and that must be handled carefully both by the player and by the support staff as well. Srikanth has also admitted that playing regular matches and a packed calendar has affected his performance. Is that hampering India's biggest hope in Men's singles at the Olympics in 2020?

“It’s been a very packed calendar this year with the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games added to it, so it’s not been easy on the body. We have been working hard in training and should start getting results soon,” Srikanth had said before going into the Japan Open.

There are instances in Indian badminton where a player gets injured sits out and then comes back to put up a great show. Saina Nehwal did that in 2016 after suffering from an intra-articular injury (inside the joint) to her right knee. She recovered well and now is still playing with the same intensity in big tournaments. She finished with a bronze in the Asian Games after humbling PV Sindhu in the finals of the Commonwealth Games. Even male shuttler HS Prannoy has had an injury-ridden career so far, and despite that he has been India's second best male shuttler as per current rankings.

On the other hand, the departure of specialist singles badminton coach from Indonesia Mulyo Handoyo from the Indian national camp in January this year has also affected how Srikanth and other Indian shuttlers including HS Prannoy have been training this year. After the former coach's exit, it has been learnt that both the shuttlers have been trying out new things in training, which has inturn has impacted their on-court performance this year. The performance of the singles players saw a meteoritic rise last year and many players had credited the Indonesian for their successful performance.

“You cannot do the same things over the years, even if you are performing well. Probably last year we had a different kind of strategy with Mulyo – it was probably working out. But now we’ve had a couple of changes in the training schedule," Prannoy had informed a couple of weeks before.

Now, with not much time remaining in 2018, Srikanth will certainly be looking forward to get some success towards the fag end of the calendar year. He will look forward to end the year on a high despite form and fitness being major issues. But, considering the packed schedule this year and the kind of form he is in, is it a far cry? You never know.

With the Korea Open about to start tomorrow, disaster has struck the Indian fans again as Kidambi Srikanth has decided to withdraw from the tourney. Fatigue has been a factor and the Indian shuttler would want to come back on the tour fitter and meaner.

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