New Delhi: "Stop comparing me with 2017." Kidambi Srikanth said it in a manner of a friendly rebuke, but the smile did little to screen the anguish. For a soft-spoken man, this was a deafening statement that deserves attention.
It's common knowledge that Srikanth spectacularly failed to live up to the promise he generated with his four titles in 2017. The slide began in December 2017 and continued through the next year, where he failed to win a single title. In the 15-month period from January 2018, the 26-year-old has lost nine quarter-finals and two semi-finals, making the final only once — at the Commonwealth Games 2018. Friday changed that equation.
Playing compatriot B Sai Praneeth in front of a sizeable crowd, the 2015 India Open champion secured a 21-23, 21-11, 21-19 quarter-final win to set up a last-four clash with China's World No 30 Huang Yuxiang. More on that later, for post-match, Srikanth painstakingly spelled out that he has had enough of 2017.
"I am much more than 2017, I have grown from there. There was 2018, where I won a Commonwealth Games medal. I have grown. We have moved on. It has been two years."
The World No 7 said he wants to put the past behind him and do well at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
"Think about 2019. I am thinking about 2020. Don’t make me think 2017. I am thinking about the future. Whatever has happened, has happened. I want to start afresh. It is about doing well at the Olympics, and the qualifications are about to start. It is all about getting to my peak fitness," he explained.
Apart from indifferent form, Srikanth was also laid low by the leg injury he sustained at the 2017 Nationals. Since then, his ankle niggles have constantly troubled him, and the star shuttler is still unsure where he stands, fitness-wise, vis-a-vis his landmark year.
"I am not sure how fit I am in comparison to 2017. I have been training hard, and my fitness level shows when you play these kind of matches. After all, players have become fitter, have grown from there; so I may be as fit as 2017 but I don’t think it will be enough in 2019."
'Playing Indians always tough'
A day before he played Hong Kong's Wong Wing Ki Vincent in the first round, Srikanth had said that he prefers facing a foreign player to an Indian because the latter know each others' game far too well. His opponent, B Sai Praneeth, had shared similar views after a sapping three-game win over Sameer Verma on Thursday.
On Friday, their misgivings were out in the open in shape of a 19-all scoreline in the decider, before Srikanth moved ahead.
“Every time you play a fellow player, it is going to be this close. Not just Sai, even Sameer and Kashyap, at their best are tough. Today’s game could have gone either way, but I am just happy he played well. At 19-all you can’t really predict which way it will go. It is just important to stay focused and play the next two points well," he said.
While Praneeth barely had any rest post his 67-minute win over Verma, Srikanth's pre-quarter-final win over Lu Guangzu had taken just 35 minutes. The Indian reckoned it went in his favour.
"I played a three-setter in the first round, while Praneeth played a three-setter yesterday, so I had a slight advantage. But again I am still happy to pull out a three-game win."
The match itself tested the temperament of both players. Praneeth, who took the first game, went to a 5-1 lead in the second, showing the full range of his strokes. Srikanth struggled with his lines, but took six consecutive points from 1-7 down to make it 7-7. He moved to lead with a thundering smash that landed on Praneeth's left. That swung the momentum decisively in Srikanth's favour.
"That was the turning point. After losing the first game and being 7-1 down and coming back making it 8-7, I did well for myself. That is what I mean, a couple of points here and there would have taken him right away. I am very happy with the way I played today," he signed off.
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Updated Date: Mar 29, 2019 23:35:51 IST