Four Superseries titles in a calendar year has made 2017 a dream year for shuttler Kidambi Srikanth and Indian badminton. In the last two weeks, he has added the Denmark Open and French Open trophies to his cabinet. It is obvious that the World No 4, who will jump higher in the rankings on Thursday, is up there in terms of talent and if he goes on like this, Srikanth will end up as one of the most successful men's singles badminton players in the world.
But what is the 24-year-old really like? In this exclusive interview, TS Sudhir catches a candid Srikanth talking about feeling lazy in the morning, what he thinks about coach and mentor Pullela Gopichand and why he dislikes shooting for ads. Edited excerpts follow:
Two Sundays, two titles. Sundays have become a working day for you.
(Laughs) But for making it work on Sunday, I have to work through the week, especially from Wednesday.
But while at the Denmark Open and French Open, you had an easy Sunday outing, the road to the finals was tough in both events.
Yes. Only Wednesday and Sunday was easy in both tournaments. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were tough days.
When one looks at you playing in these big-ticket Superseries tournaments, doing India proud, you seem rather cool for the occasion. You don't seem to get carried away by the magnitude of the occasion.
I do not show much emotion. I prefer to absorb it. I used to scream a lot during my junior days. Now if I do it, I will lose control over myself. So I prefer to control myself.
You must be aware that when you are playing, millions of Indians are glued to their TV sets, gasping at every move of yours, marvelling at the audacity of your smashes. Does the thought put pressure on you, the burden of expectations?
No, I do not think of all those things. I am focused only on what I need to execute on court.
Give us a sense of what you do in the last ten minutes before you step on court, after you have finished with the warm-up, stretches and practice. Any meditation to help you concentrate?
No, I do not do any meditation. It is the routine of warming up, stretches and practice in the same arena to get a feel of how things are.
How do you then shut off the pressure?
I do not read any news. I do not follow social media in between a tournament. I am that kind of guy. People ask me to tweet and post about myself but that is the toughest thing for me to do. So I prefer to be away from any form of social media. Only after the match is over do I post something on it. That's all.
Your smashes are a treat to watch. You played a very aggressive game in the finals of the French Open. Are you naturally an aggressive person?
No, I am not. I do not have an attitude. I do not try to intimidate the opponent. My entire focus is to take control of the situation.
I have known Pullela Gopichand for 20 years and you sound so much like him when you say that.
If you talk about comparison, I would say Gopi Sir is far more sincere than me. Everything that I read about him or what people tell me about him, I think he was just too sincere.
For instance, if a diet is prescribed, I may break it after a week or so. He will not. He is so disciplined about anything that will affect his game.
Earlier, I have seen you start your morning session with Gopi at 4:30 am, now your day begins with an 8:30 am session. Are there days when you feel extreme reluctance in going to the academy?
(Laughs) Definitely, yes. I do feel lazy about getting up. I am lazy. If I say I am not, my friends who will read this interview will know I am lying.
So when you, on those days, drag yourself to the court, is it because of fear of the coaches or a sense that you have to do this?
Half of it is because of the fear of the coaches. Half of it is with the feeling that I have to somehow finish it off for the day. I may not be 100 percent focused during the session but finish it off. The advantage is that now with a comparatively late start, I get an extra two hours of sleep. Which means 95 percent of the days, I am actually okay with getting up and going to the academy.
How dependent are you on the coaches sitting by the side when you are on court. Are there things they tell you which you fail to notice during the match?
I have an idea of what is happening during a match. But during the break, it is good to hear another perspective. Obviously coaches will see it differently. Also when you are down by five or six points, different ideas help you.
Have there been occasions, perhaps not so in 2017 when you have been on a roll, when coaches have scolded you for not implementing the plan that was discussed before the match?
Oh, yes. Before the match, they would have asked me not to smash but I may still go ahead and do it hoping to get an extra point and in the process, hit into the net. So yes, you do get told off sternly.
Unlike in the past, when Gopi would most often travel alone or just with a coach, now it is a huge Indian contingent that travels together. How do you deal with it when you lose or win against a fellow sparring partner. Like you lost to Sai Praneeth in the final in Singapore Open, you defeated HS Prannoy in Paris at the French Open. Does it affect interpersonal relationships?
Not really. We all know one has to lose and there can be only one winner. Off court relationships do not get affected by what happens on court. We cannot be angry or fight over that. We are friends forever.
In the entire contingent, it is one or two players who emerge victorious. Is there then an imbalance in terms of emotional quotient? A few would be happy, others won't be. It is not as easy as you make it sound to be because obviously everyone wants to win.
Somehow all of us have got used to enjoying each other's success. That is the way it is.
This is a question that has been asked to you many times in the last couple of days. What does being World No 2 or 3 mean to you?
It is good to be up there, but I am not running behind them.
Do you get mobbed, especially at airports now?
Sometimes yes, but not much.
How do you handle female attention?
(Chuckles) I do not go out much. There is no time. Monday to Saturday we are busy with practise and Sunday is the only rest day when I just prefer to relax.
And I know your parents do not treat Srikanth as a champion, just another son. Does that too ensure you don't get carried away by the success?
Yes. I prefer it to be simple too.
You do recognise that Kidambi Srikanth is now a huge brand. How do you deal with Srikanth, the brand? Is shooting for an ad more tough than playing a final?
Shooting for an ad is very tough. I am far more comfortable playing a match. Like when they make me shoot for the PBL ads. Very difficult. They asked me to show the same emotion I had when I won the Australian Open. Now at that time, because of the pressure, I had a certain emotion. How can I replicate it? We are not actors.
Where do you see Kidambi Srikanth five years from now?
(Laughs) Five years is a long time. I am not even thinking of the next 12 months. I can at best take one or two months at a time.
Updated Date: Nov 11, 2017 15:44 PM