French Open Superseries: Charting Kidambi Srikanth's rise to top of the game ahead of his 5th final in 2017
If Kidambi Srikanth continues his exemplar play for the remainder of the season, we could have the first Indian World No 1 in men’s badminton since Prakash Padukone in 1980.
As Kidambi Srikanth readies himself for his fifth Superseries final of the 2017 season, in France, and guns for his fourth title, we examine the hitherto short, yet explosive, career of the man who famously slayed the dragon in his homeland.
The announcement on the senior circuit
16 November, 2014: A new star was ‘potentially’ discovered. His name, Kidambi Srikanth. Coming from under the wings of former All England Champion, Pullela Gopichand, the 21-year old caused shockwaves from China to India by beating arguably the greatest singles player of all time, Lin ‘Super’ Dan in straight games, at the China Open Superseries Premier, on his home soil.
The victory was at that time underplayed in comparison to Saina Nehwal’s triumph in China in the women’s singles. After all, Saina was the shining star, ranked No 4 in the world then, incidentally the highest ranked women’s singles player in the world not coming from the Republic of China. Srikanth had climbed up to No 10 in the men’s singles courtesy the conquest, but his star had still not shone to its true potential.
The storm and the silence that followed
Fast forward five months, and Srikanth won his second Superseries title, this time, on his home soil, at the India Superseries. He was joined on the women’s side by Saina once again. Srikanth continued the good work to rise to No 3 in the world rankings, as of 4 June, 2015. However, he couldn’t keep up the momentum and eventually finished the year ranked nine in the world.
The year 2016 could be termed positive, yet disappointing, for the diminutive shuttler from Andhra Pradesh, as he failed to win a Superseries title after two straight years with titles in 2014 and 2015. He finished the year ranked 10 in the world.
The biggest positive, though, was his fighting quarter-final against Lin at the Olympic Games. While he eventually fell in three games to the two-time defending champion, he would take huge heart from his 6-21, 21-11, 18-21 loss.
Laying the foundation
Come 2017, the potential star had a task on his hands. Touted to be India’s next Prakash Padukone, cynical doubters saw reason to believe he could end up a few-tournament wonder like his coach.
At 24, Srikanth had the luxury of not having to carry the hopes of a billion for three good reasons: the Indian men’s cricket team, PV Sindhu and Saina. While Sindhu was carrying the bulk of India’s expectation in singles events, Srikanth was quietly doing his thing.
After a slow start to the year, Srikanth quickly started to find his feet in Singapore in April. Sai Praneeth and Srikanth created history by becoming the first men’s duo from India to reach the finals of a Superseries event by making it through to the finals of the men’s singles in Singapore. Praneeth prevailed in three games, but Kidambi was just getting warmed up.
Rapid rise in 2017
Despite his loss to compatriot Praneeth in Singapore, Srikanth continued to up the ante by taking the next two Superseries events, in Indonesia and Australia. His victory against Chen Long in Australia was particularly sweet as it was the first time he had gotten the better of the Chinese former World No 1 in six tries.
The three consecutive finals were followed by quarter-final exits at the World Championships and the Japan Open, but Srikanth’s game and confidence were both at arguably all-time highs. He dismantled his opponent Lee Hyun Il 21-10, 21-5 in the finals of the Denmark Open en route to his third Superseries title of the year.
He joined the special company of Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan, Chen Long and Sony Dwi Kuncoro as the only men’s singles players to win three or more Superseries titles (excluding the year-ending Superseries Masters Finals) in the same year, since the inception of the Superseries events in 2007.
Kidambi will try to make it four titles in five attempts when he plays the 2017 French Superseries Final against first-time finalist Japanese Kenta Nishimoto.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year
Srikanth currently sits atop the World Superseries Destination Dubai Rankings 2017. These rankings serve as the basis for the selection of the top players in the world who would feature in the year-ending Superseries Masters Finals.
With a chance to win his fourth Superseries title in France, Srikanth could be breathing down the throat of Viktor Axelsen for the No 1 ranking in the world on the men’s circuit. Needless to say, if he continues his exemplar play for the remainder of the season, we could have the first Indian World No 1 in men’s badminton since Padukone in 1980, and the first in the computerized ranking era, established in 2009.
Prannoy took just 40 minutes to defeat Gemke 21-14, 21-12 while dominating the Denmark player with skill and swift moves in both games
Viktor Axelsen defeated Chou Tien-then 21-10, 21-12 while Chen Yufei was locked in a 74-minute battle with Ratchanok Intanon, eventually winning it 21-16, 18-21, 21-15.
Sen was comprehensively beaten 10-21, 9-21 by Prannoy in a men's singles match that lasted a little more than half an hour.