Indians might still be putting together the jigsaw of getting the fastest tearaway in cricket, but in the meantime, badminton is offering the country some pure, unbridled rush of blood. On Sunday, Kidambi Srikanth beat Japan’s Kenta Nishimoto 21-14, 21-13 in Paris to win the French Open Super Series crown, his fourth Super Series title of the year, further cementing his status as badminton’s King of Pace.
“In conditions like where he has won, on fast courts, Srikanth is clearly the best player in the world right now,” coach Pullela Gopichand declared.
Srikanth is now only the fourth men’s singles player to win four or more Super Series titles in a calendar year. The 24-year-old’s 2017 titles include two back-to-back wins (that’s 20 matches; 10 unbeaten each time).
But it’s his utter dominance in fast courts, playing at an intimidating speed, that has been the feature of his tremendous run this year. There’s no top player Srikanth hasn’t sent packing in the course of the last six months, all on fast courts.
He has twice beaten previous World No. 1 Son Wan Ho, effected a stunning turnaround against current World No. 1 and world champion Viktor Axelsen at his home meet in Denmark, and dominated Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long — Olympic silver and gold medallists — in Australia.
Against Nishimoto, there was the definitive down-the-line smash, where Srikanth clocks 380 kmph routinely. Nishimoto is no slow coach himself, but Srikanth grabbed the initiative on Sunday and whistled forward like a bullet train against the Japanese, denying his opponent any chance of constructing his attack.
“I’m just happy with the way it has gone for me in the last couple of weeks. There were some close matches and I feel I was a bit lucky in those matches. But I’m very happy with the way it went, the way I was playing,” he told the Paris media. “I think in the semis and quarters I felt that I started slow. So I wanted to start off a bit better. He (Nishimoto) is an aggressive attacking player so I didn’t want to give him that chance,” he said.
Quizzed on his superior fitness, Srikanth laughed, “I’m surprised about it too. The way we’ve been training in the last 9-10 months, it’s been doing its part. I just need to continue training hard.”
Srikanth will jump to World No. 2 on the back of this run, but wisely waved off any bravado of gunning for World No. 1. “I think there was a lot of difference between Viktor and me for sure before the Denmark Open. I don’t think I’ll be No. 1; I might improve by a rank or two though. Definitely, it’ll be good to be there (No. 1), but I don’t really think of it right now. I don’t have many tournaments to defend anyway, so I don’t want to push myself for the ranking. I just want to enjoy playing,” he said.
Coach Gopichand called Srikanth’s Sunday win “a super achievement”. “It reinforces his calibre as one of the world’s best.” While Srikanth is yet to win a medal at the Olympics or Worlds, Gopichand reckons it’s a matter of time. Rio saw Srikanth lose narrowly to Lin Dan, while Glasgow’s slow courts had proved his undoing. “If he doesn’t (win the medals), in my eyes he wouldn’t be doing justice to his potential. But I’m super happy with where he is,” Gopichand said, adding that India could be looking at the rise of its greatest shuttler.
Padukone won big at 27 and Gopichand at 28. Srikanth has hit the big league at 24, and is looking good to extend his Super Series success to other medal events. His proclivity for the fast courts is Federeresque.
His 2017 Super Series wins include titles in Indonesia and Australia in June, Denmark in October, and the French Super Series on Sunday, while there are two more Super Series tournaments still ahead, in China and Hong Kong. Lee Chong Wei had seven Super Series titles in one year, and his four puts Srikanth just behind Lin Dan and Chen Long, who have five in a season.
The Paris win was Srikanth’s sixth Super Series title. Saina Nehwal boasts three titles in a calendar year, and an overall 10 titles, the most for an Indian.