Rio 2016 | Kidambi Srikanth goes down fighting to Olympic champion

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Rio 2016 | Kidambi Srikanth goes down fighting to Olympic champion

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SportsCafe Desk

08/17/2016

Kidambi Srikanth, ranked no.11 in the world, came back from a set down to challenge the two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan in the quarter-final before going down fighting in the decider. Srikanth lost the match 6-21, 21-11, 18-21 in 64 minutes to bow out after playing the game of his life.

After convincingly getting past the Super Dane in the pre-quarters, India’s Kidambi Srikanth took on the Super Dan, hoping to become the first-ever Indian men’s singles player to reach the semi-finals of the Olympics. The reigning Olympic champion led 2-1 on the head-to-head record before the match, but in the last meeting between the two at the 2014 China Open Super Series, it was the Indian that emerged on the winning side.

Another big performance was needed to make it to the last-four, and Srikanth started on a good note with a first-time smash to signal his intent. However, that proved to be the only good thing that happened to the Indian before the break in the opening set. The pressure was clearly visible on Srikanth’s face, and the Guntur lad found the net on multiple times against the Chinese to lose points.

On the other hand, the champion was in full flow. He waited and waited for his opponent to make the mistake, and finished it with his classic cross-court smashes when he got the chance. Srikanth played to Lin Dan’s strengths and kept on smashing, only to find the shuttlecock coming back every time. By the mid-way mark, the first set was gone. Srikanth was never coming back from a 10-point lead, and only thing left was to build some momentum for the second set. However, the 32-year-old Chinese did not allow an inch for the Indian, and took the opening set 21-6 in 16 minutes to roll like a juggernaut into the second set.

Srikanth started the second set in a similar fashion as he started the first, and won the opening point by flicking one to the backcourt after Lin Dan saved a cross-court smash with a full-length dive. It seemed like the Indian had learned his lessons from the opening set, and rather than going for first-time smashes, he employed a similar strategy as his opponent and waited for a mistake. The strategy worked, and all of the sudden the 32-year-old champion, who won the first set in a breeze, started panting. The Super Dan found the net on umpteen number of times and gave the Indian the advantage at the break with the scores at 11-5 in favour of Srikanth.

Also, read: Can India end China’s dominance as a badminton superpower?

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The patient play from Srikanth unsettled the champion, and with Lin Dan on the back foot, the Indian upped the ante with some powerful smashes to take a 17-9 lead. The set was Srikanth’s to lose and even the Chinese shuttler knew that. Srikanth wasted no time to finish off the set, and took it 21-11 with a jump cross-court smash, which left Lin Dan rooted to the court.

Unlike the first two sets, the first point of the decider went to the Chinese after a smash from Srikanth found the net. Each player had won one set each from the same end, and it was Lin Dan’s time again to take his place there. The player at the other end found the net many a times, and it continued once again as Srikanth’s returns hit the net. The drift was against him, but to secure a semi-final place Srikanth needed to overcome that, and he did just that.

The Indian followed the reigning champion till 6-7, and he although he made an error with the smash, Lin Dan’s mistake at the net drew them par. At 9-8, Srikanth took the lead after Lin Dan flicked one out of the court, and went into the break with a three-point lead after a jump smash beat the full-length dive of the World No.3.

The ends changed after the break, and with the drift on his side, the match was Srikanth’s to lose. The Indian extended his lead to 13-10 after the break, but the Chinese shuttler was not ready to go down without a fight. Lin Dan drew par at 13-13 after Srikanth’s smash went inches wide off the court. A wayward smashes, and two mistakes near the net made it 16-14 in favour of the champion and all of a sudden the pressure was back. The champion continued to pick up points here and there, and another wayward smash gave the two-time defending a 19-17 lead. Another rushed shot gave the Chinese the match point, and although he saved one, Lin Dan finished it in the next point to enter his third successive semi-finals in the Olympics.

Lin Dan will next face World No.1 Lee Chong Wei in the semi-final.

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