Pushing World No. 2 Chou Tien Chen to witless vexation might be a good start and end to top-level badminton for Kidambi Srikanth in 2020. But the real test starts now, say members of his team. “Coming from 25 per cent to 60 after the lockdown might be easier. But the difficult challenge starts now in the coming three months of going from 80 per cent to 100,” says trainer/physio Kiran Challangundla.
After assessing where he stands in Denmark playing the quarterfinals and losing in three, Srikanth will now undertake the riskier phase of his return. “Strength was an issue when Srikanth returned in August. While his first month was spent on the basics of the game with new coach Agus, the last one month was about speed and endurance. But whatever spurt you see in his game is merely because he’s fresh mentally,” Kiran says. “His physical conditioning is just at 80 percent, I’d say.”
Even at four-fifths his potential, Srikanth managed to unnerve Chou. “I think Srikanth is a very good player. His smash is good, net skills are all potent and I need to focus all the time when I play him because if you give him a chance he’ll be quick to kill,” the Chinese Taipei player told BWF on Friday.
“Every time, he’ll find different location (to hit), and sometimes when he smashes, I can’t even reach the shuttle he’s that fast,” Chou added of the fiery speed that drew a lot out of him. “When I play him, I need to use my skill to push him to make mistakes,” he said, adding that he had to alter plans drastically after losing the first set. “In the first set, he played too fast in the last few points. He’d play a half-smash and quickly go to the net for the kill. Thank god, my plans worked in the decider,” a visibly relieved Chou said.
For Srikanth, it wasn’t a bad outing given the way he played against a top-4 opponent. Having faced a torrid time with injuries last two seasons, just finding his body capable of following the instructions of his creative mind must have been a relief.
“There were lots of positives and negatives from this match. I just want to go back and sit with my coach and analyse this situation,” Srikanth told BWF. While adding that a few points at 8-all in the second and 6-7 in the decider could’ve gone his way (he fell lax), it reminded him that there are no easy points at this level. “Against the top guys, you have to be at your best throughout the match,” he added.
While Denmark was also a means to test how his working equation with Indonesian coach Agus was going, Srikanth seemed happy to not be rushed into things. “It’s been two months since I started training with the new coach. It helped us understand where we are,” he said.
For his coaching team in India, the three matches were mildly scratchy with national coach Pullela Gopichand suggesting Srikanth’s net play could do with some imagination. For Kiran, it was crucial that Srikanth didn’t overtrain during the lockdown. “Our biggest concern was that there should be no injury because we were not in Guntur to monitor. Because many athletes were assuming tournaments would start. Our instructions were ‘don’t push till we can see you directly’ and thankfully, athlete, Gopi bhaiyya, foreign coach and me were on the same page on this,” he says.
The aim is to target 100 per cent fitness for all shuttlers by December end (which explains why Saina Nehwal too was not keen on rushing back) and not be result-oriented till that time. Olympic qualifying meets won’t start until the end of February. “No undue pressure till then. We have three months to hit 100 per cent,” Kiran said.
Most importantly, Srikanth is looking eager to play once more, and shoulders are not slumping anymore but loading an almighty whip into his famous smash.
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