K Srikanth has become the first Indian man to win a major badminton title outside India after Pullela Gopichands All England Championship in 2001. The 20-year-old beat top seed Boonsak Ponsana 21-16,21-12 in 34 minutes to win the Thailand Open Grand Prix on Sunday.
While India No. 1 P Kashyap has also won a Grand Prix title,his achievement last year came at a tournament in Lucknow.
Coach Gopichand attributed Srikanths win to that rare belief,which means he is not afraid of walking new ground. I have seen players falter at the last step,but Srikanth has great mental attitude, he said. Guntur-born Srikanth trains at Gopichands academy in Hyderabad.
Indian mens badminton has felt this gap acutely,with shuttlers scoring stray victories over marquee players,shocking a top name here and there,but never quite managing to win titles.
Ranked 61,the lanky shuttler confessed to being a little tense going into the final against Thailands local favourite Ponsana,and deciding to go on the offensive. I wanted to put pressure on Boonsak. He was the top seed but I knew my offensive game attack all the time would help me against him. Once I took the lead,I never gave him a chance, Srikanth said.
A turning point was the four straight points that he won at 16-15 in the opening game. That was an important stage and after that I knew I had him, he said.
While Srikanth had scalped Jan O Jorgensen,a Top 10 player,in April this year,this win was different. Beating Jan O gave me confidence,but beating Boonsak gave me pure happiness, he said. Last year,he had also shown rare poise during a 12-21,12-21 loss to Chinese legend Lin Dan,and says what he gathered about strokes and accuracy in that match helped him tame Jan O.
According to Gopichand,Srikanth is different in not just how he doggedly pursues wins but also his special and at times unfathomable shot-play. His strokes are very difficult for opponents to read. About Srikanths self-belief,he said: Against Jan O,he lost the second game but came back strongly in the third. That hunger is rare and important.
Srikanth realises this,even admitting that it is this trait that may be the difference between his elder brother and doubles player K Nandagopal and him. Nandu has better speed and power,but I am far stronger in the mind, he said.
A doubles player earlier,this is what helped Srikanth make the switch to singles. He attributes his sharp defence and drives though to his days in doubles.
Gopichand believes what Srikanth needs to work on now is fitness. Overall he has progressed well,but his fitness will need to be consistent with the higher level he will play at from here on. Higher you go,the stronger you need to get.