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The last time an Indian men’s singles player won the Denmark crown, even Lee Hyun Il wasn’t born. The Korean is pushing 38 now, and Prakash Padukone was only just warming up for his era of dominance when he won there in 1979. Kidambi Srikanth didn’t mind showing up the former’s utter helplessness while reaching for the latter’s benchmark on Sunday as he blitzed through a 21-10, 21-5 stomp to the Denmark Super Series title. It was an absolutely unbridled attack unleashed on the oldest-ever Super Series finalist, with Srikanth reserving no ruth for his opponent who looked too tired to respond and too tight to hit back on the counter.
Srikanth won in 25 minutes of suave savagery, and though he operated pretty much on one gear – plan was to attack – Indians wouldn’t mind this sort of monstrous monotony in one of their players as he puts together a reputation of being remarkable every now and then. It gave him his first big title in Europe – he’s won in India, China, Indonesia and Australia prior to this – and the 5 Super Series titles continued the theme of wondrous weeks in which the sublime Indian looks unbeatable through five matches needed to win for a title.
Lee Hyun-il was expected to test Srikanth given how he had put together four solid matches at Odense to reach here at the ripe age of 37. But he looked simply spent – his haplessness most evident when Srikanth whipped one of his down the lines or crosscourts to the Korean’s backhand.
There wasn’t even a hint of torqueing the body and stretching across to attempt to reach for the incoming bird from Hyun-il. So, the 24-year-old kept peppering them down the same spot as the left-handed Korean watched without a flicker of an effort to bend across. At many levels, he was watching the shuttle like he would watch time pass him by.
Acutely aware of a body that hadn’t recovered optimally for the end of a draining week, Lee Hyun-il was a standing-duck for a youngster on the opposite side who might be playing in the form of his life when he turns up to play a Super Series any part of the world.
Srikanth didn’t need delving deep into his deception reserves for the older opponent today. His smashes – those obvious weapons that even a first-time watcher will comprehend for there’s nothing but the intent to ‘kill’ the shuttle written on them – were omnipresent. He didn’t need to summon his artistry at the net, because Hyun-il stayed leaden footed and reluctant to go for either flanks, but mostly on his backhand.
Srikanth boasts of variations on his smashes. There are the set-up shots that have an impressive follow-up to the net; all drama and daredevilry. But there are others that are sent shooting from mid-court, sent to crash down and sent deep to the back of the court. They are pure, unadulterated bullying strokes that eschew all pretences to the guile of the half-smash. Hyun-il has played the biggest names on the circuit in the course of his 40 finals – pre-dating Super Series era. But there was nothing that could equip him for a man who knew where to end the rally – the longest of the match might have been 8-shots.
It was usually a 4-shot, two-exchanges affair, after 4-4 in the opener when Sriknath was made to run to the four corners of the court. That point held promise of a contest. Srikanth dismissed all such notions with his pouncing at the net and the swatting almost uncaring cross-court flicks that told Hyun-il that there was to be no schooling of a man 13 years his junior in the craft of constructing points. The lead bulged 11-6, 16-8, 21-10.
The Korean is known to be a slow starter, but Srikanth entertained no such possibilities, taking off as if he had hit this pace since the second game against Viktor Axelsen in the quarters, and there was no interval never mind who the opponent in front of him was. His semifinal had been shorter than the quarters, and the final was even more abridged – winning over the Danish crowd which in 2012 watched Saina Nehwal pick the title, and in 2015 witnessed PV Sindhu come close.
The crowd almost applauded and willed on Hyun-il to offer a semblance of resistance – which came in two of the five points he won in the second set. But it was a Srikanth show throughout, and at 11-1 the match was looking lopsided and sealed for Srikanth. Hyun-il denied him the final kill though – that’s because he floated a return long. It took a long time in coming – 38 years since Padukone – the men’s singles Denmark crown, but when it came, Srikanth climbed the podium inside half an hour of taking the court.