Fighting valiantly but in vain, has been the standard match-description for Indian men’s singles players against the world’s Top 5 in badminton.
Forcing three-set deciders on higher-ranked opponents and battling to badminton’s gallant one hour-mark, Indian youngsters have fallen short at the last hurdle for want of both poise and experience on the big points.
Where Kidambi Srikanth’s 21-19, 21-18 loss to Lee Chong Wei at the Singapore Open is a shade different is that though the result — a straight-set loss — looked ever-imminent, the Andhra boy’s defiant winners could evoke the same exhilaration in a losing cause.
There was promise of deception and its accompanying dazzle in his prominent backhand mid-court strokes in every rally — the parallel pushes as well as crosscourts. Twice he forced a mis-step from the Malaysian World No 1 and even hurled a smash into his body, lighting up what seemed a drab second set. Trailing 15-8, Srikanth cranked it up to 21-18 in the end. The 42-minute match might even have seemed longer as the Indian injected late drama into the contest, refusing to wilt away.
He’s not the only Indian man to make the semifinals of a Super Series in recent years; P Kashyap had even beaten Chen Long ahead of the London Games, in Indonesia. But Saturdays have been rare for Indian men, watching from the sidelines as Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu go deeper into draws than them.
Yet, Srikanth will need to do more to make finals-day. An all-out attacking player, his defensive lapses are glaring and there are instances when he over-hits smashes with an open court in front.
The Singapore semis came after a torrid run in Europe and the India Open, and he broke a sort of a Japanese jinx when he beat Takuma Ueda in the first round after losing to him in Delhi.
Yet he will need to strike consistency on the circuit and crack venues where shuttles stay slow, adding even more variety to his unorthdox strokes. A splash of cunning could temper his aggressive game, which includes taking time between points and not always operating in a huff.
Much of his evolving tactical acumen and court-sense was on show against Chong Wei, yet sharpness in finishing a well-constructed rally remains in deficit.
Beyond Chong Wei and Lin Dan, most shuttlers claim the all-out attack as their calling card. An extra layer of deception might just help the Indian break away from the pack.
Shivani is senior assistant editor based in Mumbai.