Srikanth Kidambi: Shuttle Hero

Not much was known about 16th-ranked 21-year old Indian Badminton player Srikanth Kidambi, except that he is currently the highest ranked Indian Male player. Until Sunday. It was a great day overall for Indian sports, but Kidambi’s achievement perhaps topped it all. No Indian Male Badminton player had ever won a Super Series title, until Kidambi defeated 2-time Olympic and 5-time World Champion home favorite Lin Dan in a pulsating 2-set battle (21-19, 21-17).

This is an unprecedented achievement for Indian badminton. While Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu are successfully carrying Women’s badminton and beating the best in the world, for a long time it was only Commonwealth Champ Parupalli Kashyap representing the Male Scene. To put Kidambi’s achievement into perspective, Kashyap’s best performance has been a semifinal at the Singapore Super Series event, a historical quarterfinal at the London Olympics and a World no. 6 ranking position, along with a gold medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. He came close, but never quite won a Super Series event, and more notably, hasn’t ever beaten Lin Dan and World no. 1 Lee Chong Wei in 6 attempts.

Kidambi has been on the rise for a few years now, especially after he defeated Kashyap for the national title in Delhi last year, months after winning his first Grand Prix title (Thailand). The Andra shuttler then begun 2014 as the runner-up of the Indian Granx Prix Open Gold in Lucknow, and was a quarterfinalist at the Malaysian Open. 

He reached only the quarters of the Men’s Singles event in the Commonwealth Games, which made his China Open title win all the more surprising. Defeating Lin Dan, who is considered widely to be the greatest Badminton player of all time, is no mean feat, especially on Dan’s home turf over two games. This is the first time Dan has lost a final since Korea 2012, and this is Kidambi’s first win in 3 attempts against the Chinese superstar.

What’s remarkable is that Kidambi, only 4 months ago, suffered from a serious case of Brain Fever, after being found unconscious in a washroom in July. Many were worried about his survival, but somehow, Kidambi finds himself on the podium of what many consider to be the toughest tournament in World Badminton. He may have been a bit lucky though, after his semifinalist German opponent Zwiebler retired hurt after being a game and 13-7 up.

As is almost always the case with groundbreaking Indian shuttlers, Kidambi has been coached by Pulela Gopichand at his academy. The Gopichand Academy has changed the scene of Indian badminton ever since he took over as mentor for many top players (Kashyap, Nehwal, Sindhu, Datt). Perhaps Lee Chong Wei’s coach Tae Jo Bok’s words during the Indian Badminton league seem to have given Kadimbi the required confidence.

The coach had predicted that young Kadimbi will go on to become India’s top player, especially because his movements on court were similar to his own World no. 1 Wei (who is currently banned for testing positive).

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