There are very few players in the world who possess characteristics similar to that of Danish badminton legend Peter Gade. The Dane's mental discipline and precision at the net swept other top shuttlers aside during his heyday. “Too good to write him off,” said a certain commentator, who was made to swallow his words during the final of the 2010 All England Championships after the Dane played a couple of loose shots against Taufik Hidayat but responded with lethal smashes to make amends and eventually win the prestigious title. Gade carried Denmark's hopes in the men's singles category at a very young age, and he mastered it since day one.
Among the likes of China’s Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and Indonesian ace Hidayat, Gade, one of the fittest athletes, was arguably the lone European breaching the impenetrable defences of the Asian dominion. From 1998 to 2001, the attacking wizard won 15 titles. His swift on-court movements startled the opponents as Gade covered every inch of the court.
As years passed by, other countries too started producing attack-minded talents and India’s Kidambi Srikanth announced himself to the global stage in style, beating the ever-proficient Lin to clinch his maiden Superseries crown at the 2014 China Open.
Like Gade, a young Srikanth would rely on his attack and use it to his advantage to finish games swiftly. There were a few murmurs around the international circuit about the similarities between the two. After a health scare in July 2014, where Srikanth was found unconscious in the bathroom after complaining of a headache, his warrior-like demeanour saw him take the court again and go on to win the 2015 Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold and India Open Superseries. In a sport that requires great concentration and mental stability, Srikanth appeared as the one to thrive under extreme pressure.
Despite enduring a rough patch in 2016, the Guntur lad was back at his best this year. Just the way how Gade overcame a tough time in 2003 and came back stronger winning two major titles in the next calendar year. Now, Srikanth has smashed his way into the top five of the BWF Rankings once again with a plethora of fast attacks and smooth movements.
"Srikanth is a kind of a player who is very attacking, offensive from the back of the court. It is really tough to defend his smashes and the strokes coming from the backcourt. So, I feel it is the biggest strength of the game," HS Prannoy had told Firstpost in June.
On Sunday, the 24-year-old extended his dream run by bagging yet another Superseries title, in what was his fifth Superseries final of the calendar year. After missing out on winning the Singapore Open, Srikanth scripted history by collecting Indonesia Open, Australia Open, Denmark Open and now, the French Open crown. The instant success is a result of his unmatchable attacking prowess. Moreover, to stand tall ahead of some of the big names is an ode to his fitness.
Since Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo — who guided Hidayat to an Olympic gold — joined forces with national coach Pullela Gopichand in 2016, Srikanth's performances have rocketed skywards. Change in training methods has helped Indian men's singles move up the ladder in recent times and the Guntur-born shuttler appears to have reaped the rewards.
So what makes the high-flying Srikanth comparable to the legendary Gade? Let Gopichand, the man who defeated the Dane at the All England semi-finals explain it to you. “Srikanth is unique in a lot of ways as much and his game is a lot more unorthodox. The style of play is in a way similar to what Peter Gade is and the movement is also something which reminds me of Gade,” before adding: "Peter (Gade) is somebody who has achieved a lot in his career. I've been fortunate to have beaten him at the All England Championships."
Defeating higher-ranked players, and that too in back-to-back tournaments, takes a toll on the athlete’s body but Gade and Srikanth belong to a unique breed of shuttlers — they simply refuse to stop coasting once they hit the winning note.
"I think he could definitely improve more as he is someone who has shown great temperament to win so many matches this year. I would like him to be consistent and shine at the biggest of the tournaments. I know he will," Gopichand said.
When the Hyderabad-based shuttler made a mockery of Chen Long's classy defensive prowess to win the Australia Open Superseries title in June, the world badminton elite knew what was coming. Not to forget, he had also won the Indonesia Open just a week ago.
Watching Srikanth play, we must remember, is like watching at a monk who just focuses on nothing but his goal. His attacking approach in an era that is dominated by defensive players can be compared to spotting an oasis in a desert. The mental sturdiness of the 24-year-old is what sets him apart from the rest.
Srikanth will reach a career-best ranking of No 2 and interestingly, only World No 1 Viktor Axelsen has both the physical and technical abilities to rule the men's singles circuit for years. However, Srikanth has been the one to cramp Axelsen for his height. Just like he did at the Denmark Open in Odense en route to the title. But, at the end of the day, Srikanth's Gade-like attacking wizardry will be a handful for even the toughest opponents. Smash, cross-court slice and the kill. This is Srikanth for you.
Updated Date: Oct 30, 2017 13:39:37 IST