Two boys from a modest farm-owning family in Guntur along the Krishna river saw their half a decade of toil yield success on the same day,albeit hitting fuzzy shuttles on a badminton court.
Twenty-year-old K Srikanth toplined a fine season at the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold tournament as he made his maiden final at this level (just a grade below the Super series) after a 21-14,21-18 win over local lad Thammasin Sitthikom.
Across the cape to India’s west in the specky islands of Maldives,Srikanth’s brother K Nandagopal,whose backhand jump smash is a delight to watch,combined with K Maneesha to eke out a rare and defiant 21-18,21-13 victory over a Korean pair (Ji Man Hwang and Min Ji Park) to complete a day of happy tidings for the Guntur household.
Srikanth had picked his first singles title at Maldives too,exactly a year ago,though it is a lower-rung International Challenge (a grade below the Grand Prix),but it had been his first success since the boys’ paths forked after he chose to focus on singles.
Much of Srikanth’s singles game though,is imprinted by his days dabbling at doubles,when the pair of boys started out in the small city,where kids throng chess and have been steadily attracted towards cricket in the past few years. A massive edifice of an international cricket stadium is rising on the Mangalagiri horizon in Guntur,but these two were fished out by Gopichand’s local scouts and packed off to Vizag well before any other sport could consume them five years ago.
With a history in doubles,Srikanth,a lanky shuttler,looks unorthodox and is a pleasant oddity on a singles court with his parallel game,minus the flight,yet effective in his execution. His strokes break the clutches of the loopy singles play,dangling flirtingly around the net,and Saturday’s win would only have lent his unconventional ways some more confidence five years after he moved to train at Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad,his doubles speed intact.
Grazing six feet,he is a formidable presence for his mere reach,and combines that with plenty of wristy deception. Srikanth spent his junior years rushing from one event to next,singles to men’s doubles to mixed doubles,and effectively coming second-best to Sameer Verma in singles,always.
However since he directed exclusive attention to singles,Srikanth,now ranked World No 61,has gotten the better of some of the Indians like Ajay Jayram and Guru Saidutt,and at the Nationals last October the two brothers both reached the semifinals. However,2013’s been a purple patch for Srikanth,two years Nandakumar’s junior,as he came close to beating Danish Top 10 Jan Jorgensen at the Swiss Open,and eventually got the better of him in Delhi’s Super Series.
“I’m not surprised with his progress,because he’s had some good results this year. But it’s good to see him win matches in a row and make the final. That should give him a good boost of confidence,” national coach P Gopichand said. He next runs into Boonsak Ponsana,a seasoned sorcerer with his fluent strokes,and playing at home at Thailand’s Nimitbutr National Stadium. “The conditions are very tough they tell me,and Boonsak will exploit them to the hilt since he’s comfortable playing in them. But Srikanth tends to play freely,without any baggage,so it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out,” the coach said.
In Maldives,and definitely not under the immense spotlight that his brother will be under – since Indians still put a lot of store on singles,Nandagopal with Maneesha will take on another Korean pair of Dae Sung Kim and Bo Kyung And should they manage a title-win at the Male Sports Complex,it would carry greater import for India’s luckless tryst with doubles.