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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Patient pays… almost: Srikanth goes down fighting in Tour finals opener against Antonsen

Kidambi Srikanth gritted it out and though he ended up losing after 77 minutes on the day, the uncharacteristic playing style raised hopes that the talented Indian can become more than just a fast-court, aggressive, speed merchant, who drops off in big events.

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: January 28, 2021 9:11:12 am
kidambi srikanth, bdminton, pv sindhu, india badminton, badminton world tour finalsKidambi Srikanth lost 21-15, 16-21, 18-21 to Anders Antonsen. (BWF)

In Test cricket’s season of spectacular stubbornness, Kidambi Srikanth tried his hand at gritting it out in badminton. And though he ended up losing after 77 minutes on the day, the uncharacteristic playing style raised hopes that the talented Indian can become more than just a fast-court, aggressive, speed merchant, who drops off in big events at the first sight of a slow, dragging shuttle.

Srikanth played two strokes more than he normally would in any given rally in his opener of the World Tour Finals against Anders Antonsen on Wednesday. For anyone accustomed to admiring his attacking style, it was a matter of great exasperation. Playing percentage is almost demeaning for Srikanth – he’s allergic to patience – and his resistance to learn another way renders him a dead weight when conditions aren’t in his favour.

He needs to only look at PV Sindhu, who despite boasting the attacking chops, has learnt to give herself a chance to stay in a long match, from where she can step up the offence.

Antonsen, still reeling from last week’s run to the final, was leaden-footed and dragging his own game – a cue for Srikanth to hurry up and get the win. His winners were coming from accelerations and net rushes, evoking nostalgia circa 2017, prompting questions over why he wouldn’t go for broke.

And yet, Srikanth stayed in the long rallies, played those two extra shots that cost him the match 21-15, 16-21, 18-21, given his inadequate strength and stamina at this stage. But it prepped him for the path to the top, hurdles such as Kento Momota, Chen Long, Chou Tien Chen, Viktor Axelsen, all prepared to slug it out in long rallies and enforce shuttle’s version of death-by-monotone.

Conditioning a worry

Srikanth loves artistry which he can fashion into brutal attacks of quick kills. The problem these last few years has been that opponents won’t indulge him in a style he revels in. And so, he must learn to survive the long rallies, and the slow, heaving shuttle, in order to sneak in the net-rushes and mic-drop smashes he thrives on.

Here’s where Srikanth is woefully behind the pack – the lack of top-of-the-shelf conditioning that can help him dictate his style, his lack of precision leading to mistakes when closing out games, when his attack gets too exuberant and he overdoes the power in the smash which falls limp at the net. The fatigue and errors are linked, and a sprightly Momota won’t serenade him into a decider, finishing him in two games instead.

Flashes of brilliance

But Srikanth assured that even his grit won’t be grimy. At 13-all in the opener, Antonsen smashed to Srikanth’s right and the Indian’s return was straight from the Matrix movie – bringing his racquet at hip-height and rebounding it for a cross-court winner. His body defence is a work of art – there was a low backhand retrieve at 16-16 in the decider, the wrist trained for amazing control. Antonsen had the literal gobsmacked scratch-the-head reaction an opponent will give when such unreal defensive winners are secured. But the smashing errors, and late-game wobbles at the net put paid to the Indian’s hopes.

“I can’t say I’m happy with the way I played today, because I was playing much better in training before I came here. I had my chances today, I could have won from 17-16 in the third. Main motto for me is to play as many matches as possible, because I haven’t been winning matches over the last two years. So I really want to play matches with the top four, top eight players,” Srikanth would say.

Staying in a long rally also means Srikanth punctuates those prolonged exchanges with quick bursts of speed mid-rally, mixing the punch clears with smashes. Only, now he has the composure to wait it out on the follow-up if the return fetches up, and not throw it all away in a huff, frustrated about his attack not getting the desired result. A 40+ shot rally is a test of Srikanth’s patience, as his every instinct is to rebel and assert his kill shot. Much of playing and beating the top players will be about acing those 40-shot rallies on bad days. 2021 has only just begun.

Spirited Sindhu loses to Tai Tzu

Sindhu started her campaign managing to wrong-foot Tai Tzu-Ying once in the match, but couldn’t tangle her up enough, losing 21-19, 12-21, 17-21.

Using tosses and her superior reach, Sindhu kept things neck-and-neck in the first and third games, and summoned the big smash that can overpower opponents. But her body defence was shabby, and follow-ups half a step slower, which meant that the Indian couldn’t sprint the home straight.

Still, Sindhu looked more assured at the net than she has in a long time. And her flicks from mid-court tied up the Taiwanese in knots. But it is criminal to find a yawning open court against the World No. 1 and sail a smash long. So, though a great workout before she runs into Ratchanok Intanon on Thursday, Sindhu couldn’t tame this one.

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