Kidambi Srikanth: Making & re-making of a champion

After a dazzling start three years ago, Srikanth looked as if he would disappear into oblivion. However, back-to-back Super Series wins indicate he has found his verve. The Indian Express digs deep and discovers some interesting nuggets about Indian badminton’s latest sensation.

Written by Shivani Naik | Updated: June 26, 2017 9:25 am
kidambi srikanth, k srikant, australian super series, australia open, australian open super series, badminton news, sports news, indian express K Srikanth loves his aggressive, attacking smashing, but has always admired MS Dhoni’s temperament. (Source: AP)

Kidambi Srikanth has resurfaced on Indian badminton’s horizon since the surprise of a win over Lin Dan in the China Open final in November 2014. The 24-year-old would win at home in 2015, and dazzle briefly at the Rio Olympics before disappearing like a shooting star, making his fans wish that he would get a little more consistent. His return might yet be more glorious than his first sighting.

Here are the 10 things that most don’t know about the newly minted double Super Series champion.

Ran In Training After 18

It’s hard enough for most at the Gopichand Academy, as trainees are put through rigorous routines of lapping different distances of the synthetic track in specific times, but it was doubly challenging for Srikanth. “It’s because he wasn’t used to running in training till 18 in his childhood. He started very late,” informs physio C. Kiran. In the high-intensity workouts, Srikanth could hit a heart rate of 180-200 and finish almost breathless. Gym reps were easy in comparison. Running those 2 to 10 km — time trials after a taxing gym workout are the hardest for India’s top shuttler. “Before Olympics, he puked and almost fainted in those sessions,” recalls coach Gopichand, waving away all complaints. “Running was hard work for me too in my playing days, but it’s gotta be done” Ask the coach if running laps has gone out of fashion replaced by game-specific workouts and he answers, “No. If you want to win, you still run.”

South Indian Fare

Srikanth was driven enough for success to teach himself to wean himself away from anything sweet. “In general he just lost the craving for sweets. If it’s in a very minuscule quantity and just to taste, he is allowed. But he disciplined himself pretty early on,” Kiran says. Never a big fan of fast-food – pizzas or burgers – Srikanth was encouraged to stick to food he had grown up eating. “Rice is good. When he travels, south-east Asian food is his preferred choice,” Kiran adds. At home, it’s whatever his mum makes.

Dhoni Inspired

“It’s one autograph he really wants. I think MSD will give it now,” laughs brother K Nandagopal, explaining the teenaged inspiration. K Srikanth loves his aggressive, attacking smashing, but has always admired the former India cricket skipper’s temperament. “I don’t know if I’m as cool as him, but I want to be. I love the way he believes in himself and backs himself in the big, important moments,” Srikanth says. It’s the restrained, no-antics aggression why he’s a Roger Federer fan too. “It’s about how Dhoni conducted himself in tough situations,” the brother adds. “Srikanth always wants to respond the same way that Dhoni did when the situation was not in his hands. He has a cool, dignified way, Srikanth thinks.”

Inside Box Treatment

PV Sindhu had suffered a freak foot injury before the Olympics and had spent her time recovering, by sitting inside a marked box and hitting shuttles, working on every other part of the upper body. “That experience helped us when Srikanth suffered his right ankle stress fracture,” Gopichand says. “The credit for his injury recovery goes to the physio Kiran who didn’t let him go home when he got injured. Like Sindhu, we made him sit inside the box and play. He used his injury period to get physically stronger in fact,” he adds. But the support staff didn’t back off from high intensity training, while the ankle healed. “What takes 6-8 weeks to come out from, in his case took 3 months,” Kiran says.

No Clutter Thinking

Closely linked to the injury rehab was Srikanth’s absolute faith in his coaching staff. Gopichand has long maintained that one reason for Srikanth’s success is he doesn’t over-think even when he’s down. “He doesn’t try to make too many decisions on his own off-court. When athletes get injured, they’ll cross-check with many doctors or try for quick-fix,” Kiran says. Srikanth trusted his team. Tournament routines too are designed to ensure this. “Warm-ups, matches, recovery sessions and evening recovery is all planned so that he’s kept busy and doesn’t over-think – not about the last match and not too much about the next one,” the physio informs. Aside of the night’s sleep, there’s only two hours in the day when he’s not doing something. “Oh, but that’s when he’s having lunch or dinner,” Kiran wickedly informs.

Patching Body Together

Srikanth always played the aggressive game as a junior, but his body couldn’t take the strain for more than 15 minutes. He survived lower levels on this cloud-burst of attack but found it tough at the Super Series level. A 3-year-plan was set into motion.“We worked on strength and endurance and stabilised the body, but his movement became slower. Then the next year was movements and finally injury prevention,” Kiran says. It was risky training initially, but for all the imbalance of the body position when playing strokes, it was what was needed. The strokes that he initially played using proximal areas – chest, back, thighs, the coaches slowly moved to the calf and forearm.

The Big Smash

While the overhead jump smash of K Srikanth is a work of art, most of it was a natural talent, the finishing though needed an injection of strength. It’s not just the speed of the smash or the ferocity or proclivity, but the angles on the smashes. “There’s straight, cross, a smash with 80 percent power and 100 percent. Though we can’t tell from the action what he’ll hurl next, we can guess based on his mindframe,” Kiran says.

Facing Two Imposters

The most common line brother Nandagopal has heard Srikanth say is, “For everything, my time will come.” The older sibling is thoroughly impressed with how the younger one deals with the equanimity that Srikanth shows dealing with failure and success. “He says he can’t bring time back. So best to prove to the world whatever he’s trying to, in the next tournament,” he says. “He’ll enjoy the moment, and not carry it forward. After the loss in Singapore, murmurs had begun that Srikanth would never match his heady results of 2014-15. “He doesn’t take any criticism personally. His mental clarity is brilliant,” the brother adds.

Patience & Consistency

“There’s a difference in the two,” Nandagopal insists. It’s not about consistency in results. The big lesson from Olympics was how small mistakes at 20-19 cost him so many matches. Against Chen Long on Sunday, he turned the tables. “He’s learnt to not rush. And wait for opponent to make mistakes,” he adds. Besides not giving Chen Long a chance to attack, Srikanth ensured accuracy of his smashes was clinical and it’s all those sprayed kills from the Olympics and the Singapore Open final that have cured his impatience. “They have no option but to learn this lesson,” Gopichand says. “Sindhu shouldn’t have rushed against Tai Tzu. You need to keep reminding them this. There’s a subtle difference between overdoing attack and getting it right.”

At 70 Percent

“He’s operating at 70 percent of his capacity right now,” the coach says. “There’s a half dozen contenders at World Championships, but after Australia, Srikanth will be the marked man.”

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