There’s space for likeable savages here. King Canute IV, the last of Denmark’s Viking kings was slain in this city of Odense, and later canonized even. Not all ambition is brutal it is concluded, and what’s brutish, bestial and even a shade barbarian can also be viewed as brave and courageous.
At Ground Zero of badminton’s current Super Series — the Denmark Open — it takes the great Dane Peter Gade (he was one quarter of the last decade’s Fab Four which also included Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei) to understand how the world views the savagely attacking, no-holds-barred game of India’s very own Kidambi Srikanth.
“There’s very few like him, you know, who have such a purely attacking, aggressive mind,” Gade says, soon after the World No 5, India’s highest ranked men’s singles player has finished off Ajay Jayaram’s challenge with a typically smash-all game 21-10, 21-14 in little over half an hour.
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“It’s not so often you see players like him, because everyone strives to be a complete player and has the ‘defense’ part of their game that’s visible. Not to say his defense is bad, but Srikanth thrives in this on-court personality of someone who has that killer-like aggression in his game,” Gade adds. There’s little that’s held back when he smashes or kills a shuttle into lifelessness, the intent is absolute, and Gade is glad that this unmasked aggression hasn’t been a handicap in Srikanth winning his pair of Super Series titles.
The tournament victories earned Srikanth the respect that matches others lose owing to impetuous aggression might not have. But Gade is simply a fan of the attacking play. Most shuttlers develop variations in their smashes — the deceptive drops, the teasing half smashes, the 22-year-old Indian doesn’t always like getting clever or nuanced with his strike weapon.
Srikanth has some of those delicate shots, but his preferred mode is unbridled attack — in cricket-terms, it’s why a Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee would still draw the gasps even if consistent McGrath is taking wickets by the truckloads.
Gade rates him in the top bunch of five — alongside Jan O Jorgensen, Viktor Axelsen, Kento Momota and of course No.1 Chen Long as a formidable five that will rule shuttle over the next decade.
Though Chong Wei and Lin Dan are still around on the circuit, there is a general belief that the baton has been passed – snatched in fact from the duo that lit up badminton rivalries over the last two Olympic cycles.
“I believe there can be an Olympic champion aside of Lin Dan, Chong Wei or even Chen Long at Rio,” Gade says, stressing how it’s much more open in men’s singles now.
Japanese Momota is a natural with a “feel for the game”, Jan O matched Dan and Chong Wei in physicality and Axelsen is extremely driven and focussed. “Chen Long is physically very strong. He’s humble and I respect him for the results he’s pulled out. But it’s a bunch of five up there, and Srikanth belongs for sure,” Gade stresses.
“I believe I can win the Olympics medal,” Srikanth himself says. “I’m happy to be considered in the top group but I have much to achieve,” he says. “On my day, I can beat any of them,” he claims.
He’s humble enough to think that men’s singles achievements in India are shy of what Saina Nehwal has achieved. But he’s unapologetic about his own attacking style and steep projectiles that he unleashes when pitted against the drag that “consistency” can be.
“Consistency’s an issue, but I don’ think I’m losing very badly when I go down because of my attacking play. It’s been close matches,” he says. “Better fitness and strategies is the target,” he adds.
Aware that expectations from him have increased ever since he won the China Open last year, he insists he doesn’t want to ditch what is “his style.”
“I like how I play, would never want to change that. Attack just comes to me,” says the mild-mannered man, who is quite affable off-court and friendly with his team-mates. “I want to beat each of them when I come up against them, but off-court we are friends, we hang out, and no grudges,” he says, though he still nurses a regret over how he couldn’t beat a wily Kashyap at the Syed Modi earlier this year.
On a windy, clawing cold morning in Odense, Srikanth steps out alone for an early lunch takeway of hot food. A lone ranger, he skips back into the hotel before merging with the team ahead of his opener.
The Guntur boy likes his game attack to be smashing, and his food spicy. Nothing dull on his plate.
Of Kings and Vikings
Odense (they love it when you pronounce it perfect: O-en-suh, just like we love it in Chennai if you get the silent ‘zh’ of the Kazhagam right) has its many pulls for the outsider. As birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, Odense loves its fairytales. What Odense loves just as much is just how much the Chinese love their fairytales.
The mermaid finding her soul and the duckling finding its flock of swans is all very well, but Frederik Munk of Sport Event Denmark was thrown a zinger by a sharp-witted Chinese scribe demanding her piece of the Danish fairytale. The allure of the older fairytales is what the Danes would want the typical Chinese tourist to be attracted to; but what the Chinese want to know is — why are Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark and Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, not adding the royal touch to sporting events just like Kate and William do to draw the awws from spectators.
A gorgeous couple with pretty children — it is pointed out — the Danish regal pair, are the modern-day real-life “fairytale” with the romance between the prince and commoner having brewed over the 2000 Summer Olympics in a Sydney pub. And the Chinese demand that they be more visible at sporting events.
To be sure, the princess Mary participated in a swimming meet a few years ago under another name, while the prince competed in a triathlon — though not under an alias.
It’s just that they wear their crowns in an understated way, the Danish say. Not for them, the monarchical turns at sporting events like Kate wowing at the hockey during the Olympics or William turning up to cheer for Wales at the rugby.
What Denmark can still fall back on is their ancient kings — who weren’t so understated at anything on way to becoming famous.
The country’s newest bitter has dug out ancient concoctions of sea buckthorn, barley, gooseberries and mead from their ancestor’s history, and coins of Viking vintage are now on the bottle to celebrate the past of their much-loved savage predecessor rulers. As an Indian with highly questionable music tastes from teenage times, I declare my undying love for the only ‘kings’ from Denmark I grew up knowing of – the royalty of pop ballads Michael Learns to Rock, a declaration that neither amuses nor impress any of the Danes. The Chinese, perhaps, have the last word on matters of royalty: Lin Dan has just launched his own brand of underwear and done a smoking hot photoshoot for the same, if their journalists are to be believed. In shuttle’s la la land, the King of Badminton is royally back.