A few years ago, the last two days of any junior tournament in India would provide some frustrating moments for the lanky Kidambi Srikanth. The youngster from Guntur would give his all in the singles category only to come out second best to the likes of Sameer Verma, Pratul Joshi or someone else and then make it up with a title in the boy’s doubles or mixed doubles category.
The consistency he showed in doubles and his precision in returning short serves meant that he was being looked upon as a future doubles star for India and even he would have struggled to decide which way he should go in the pursuit of international glory.
But thankfully for him, he shifted base from Vishakhapatnam (he used to train there under Sudhakar Reddy) to the Gopichand Badminton Academy in 2009 and the chief national coach Puella Gopichand ended up taking the call for him.
And the rest as they say is history.
On Sunday, the 20-year-old justified the faith shown in him by Gopichand by becoming only the second Indian men’s singles player to win a Grand Prix Gold title with a straight games upset of world number seven Boonsak Ponsana in his own backyard in the Thailand Open.
The icing on the cake was the fact that Srikanth did not drop a single game in a tournament that is only one level below the coveted Super Series in the Badminton World Federation’s tournament structure.
Srikanth’s academy-mate P Kashyap was the first to achieve the milestone at the Syed Modi GP gold meet in Lucknow last year. In fact, no Indian men’s singles player had won a tournament of this stature outside India since Gopichand’s All England triumph in 2001.
Though Srikanth’s title triumph would have come as a surprise to many even in the badminton circuit, the youngster had already made his pitch to be anointed as the future star of Indian badminton in the last one year.
The 2011 junior boy’s doubles champion, who was ranked 240th in the world a year ago, announced his arrival on the singles scene with an upset victory over former world junior champion Zulfadli Zulkifli of Malaysia to lift the Maldives International in June last year and hasn’t looked back since then.
He accounted for Indonesia’s Yunus Alamsyah en route the semifinal appearance in the Macau Grand Prix Gold tournament in December 2012 and then humbled world number 27 Ajay Jayaram in the pre-quarterfinals of the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold tournament in Lucknow.
But the biggest victory for Srikanth came in the Yonex Sunrise India Open Super Series in April when he upset then world number six Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark in the first round.
In that match, Srikanth made good use of his doubles strokes to surprise the Dane and it is his ability to play a bigger range of strokes between a rally that gives him an upper-hand.
Explaining the rationale behind his decision to make Srikanth concentrate on singles, Gopi Chand said, “he has an all round game and has the strokes to succeed in singles.
“He is also a very smart player and knows how to use his doubles strokes in singles and that makes him a very exciting prospect,” said the chief national coach.
Ask the man himself whether he had any doubt about his future after opting to concentrate on singles, Srikanth isn’t really emphatic in playing down the thought but insists that he had complete faith in the coach and knew that taking up singles opened more opportunities for him than doubles.
As for India, we have yet another singles star to follow now.