It’s a shadow that Parupalli Kashyap has lived in for a long time. However, it makes a mighty difference that the shadow belongs to Saina Nehwal. Kashyap knows the spotlight is close, should he leap out and reach out for glory.
“She’s the reason why people talk about Indian badminton. I can understand why I have to share my coach’s attention with her, but it’s very disturbing when he’s shuffling from one corner to the next.
Last time at the World Championships” he trailed off, recounting the heart-breaking moment at the Worlds last year, when match-point up in the quarterfinals, he had frozen and lost a possible bronze, after the coach had sprinted across to tend to Nehwal’s game.
Kashyap did reach out on Saturday, entering the final of the Commonwealth Games after a thriller at the Emirates Stadium against England’s Rajiv Ouseph, a CWG nemesis. This time, Gopichand stayed put till Kashyap wrapped it up.
The Ouseph and Kashyap Commonwealth Games saga is now four matches-old and England’s best player had made it interesting by winning the crucial singles tie in the mixed-doubles to dump favourites India out of contention.
At Delhi, Kashyap had nicked him out in team-play, while Ouseph had gone to play the singles final with Kashyap getting bronze. Kashyap and Ouseph have played each other so often, the Indian has such a visceral memory of each of the losses. The 28-year-old can recall the sinking feeling he gets every time Ouseph starts turning the screw.
“I’ve beaten him in Korea and China, but when I’m under pressure, he can take points off me,” Kashyap said after a game in which he effected a undo on all his past misadventures against Ouseph, despite going a set down. “He just turns on the variety in his strokes and picks points in a clutch and I often break down.”
“I just kept retrieving and despite trailing in the first, I kept at it,” he said, of the early blows he had to withstand.
What Ouseph wasn’t perhaps prepared for, perhaps, was Kashyap breaking his rhythmic glide on court to bend low and pick shuttles that he’d otherwise give up on. Kashyap sneaked in a counter in the second, mixing his lengths and leveling at a game apiece, to drag the match into the decider.
Yet, Kashyap wasn’t oozing confidence despite the fightback, looking tentatively to his coach to be shepherded through a match he desperately wanted to win. His game, though, was more assured with Kashyap plotting each point with a mixture of tosses and drops, to secure a five-point lead and to match point.
But nothing’s come easy to Kashyap. This Commonwealth Games semifinal win would be no different. At 20-15, he would play the longest rally of the match, a 71-stroke back-and-forth lasting over a minute, where he flirted with the lines on the forecourt and lost. It was ruled out, even as Kashyap had begun celebrating.
“Ridiculous line call,” he thundered, saying it was at least an inch in. At Delhi four years ago, he’d hit a smash — it was over-ruled — and the next four years were spent twiddling with a bronze, and nursing regrets.
With both hitting deep and Ouseph getting his smashes in nicely, Kashyap sensed another consolation, though he backed himself to fight till the very end. The victory came after Kashyap tested Ouseph at the net, with the margin down to 20-18.
“In such pressure matches, when you desperately want a medal, anyone can beat anyone; rankings and fitness don’t matter. It’s only the heart that matters,” he said, poking the crest on the shirt.
On Sunday, Kashyap will try to bring home a gold medal, which Saina Nehwal had won in Delhi. The shadow was Kashyap’s prep-model, became his friend and will be his inspiration when he seeks the spotlight..