At the start of the week, Kidambi Srikanth wondered where he was at the present moment in relation to the likes of Kento Momota, Shi Yuqi and Viktor Axelsen. He found his answer in the final of the Yonex-Sunrise India Open on Sunday—some way behind.
Srikanth hadn’t been in the final of a tour event since his four Superseries titles in 2017, but owing to injuries, loss of form and ups and down in top-level sport, hasn’t been able to get anywhere near that level. On Sunday, the tall Dane showed he had a lot of catching up to do.
The Indian was simply blown away in the first game, but made a fight of it in the second and reached two game points, giving the large home crowd the hope that they will get a decider. But Axelsen strung four points together together for a 21-7, 22-20 victory and his second India Open title after the one won two years ago. He celebrated my taking off his sweat-drenched shirt and throwing it, and his racquet, into the crowd. “I think I gave him (Axelsen) too many chances in the first set to attack and tried avoiding that in the second. I did fairly well till the 20th point. May be if there would have been a decider, I would have had much better chances,” Srikanth said after the match.
The match began on an even keel with both players winning alternate points till the match took such a drastic turn that left the Indian reeling. Axelsen had already earned a narrow 9-7 lead when he went on a tear to amass 15 consecutive points to not only pocket the first game but also open the second with a 3-0 lead. His long wingspan made him almost impossible to break past, while Srikanth found the jump smash especially difficult to counter.
Srikanth just couldn’t cope with the injection of speed that the Dane brought into rallies, his constant attacks catching the Indian off balance. Srikanth’s mind was so scrambled that even when he got into a dominant position in a rally, he made an error while going for the kill.
Just when it seemed that the 2015 champion would fade away without a fight, he made the No.2 seed, the highest-ranked player in the draw after Shi Yuqi’s withdrawal, a run for his money in the second game. Axelsen led 5-1 and then 10-6 but the Indian pit up a brave effort to reel him in at 13-all. Thereafter, Srikanth seemed to be in ascendancy, backed by a crowd that suddenly found its voice.
It was Axelsen playing catch-up as he started making some uncharacteristic errors. It was the Indian who was controlling proceedings and a quick exchange, followed by a kill at the net, brought up game point at 20-18. But that was as good as it got for Srikanth.
“I think I didn’t play any differently, but in hindsight, I could have tried something different,” he said afterwards, before adding “he was the braver player at the end.”
Despite the defeat, Srikanth felt it had been a useful week for him. Even though two back-to-back three-gamers may not have been the ideal precursor for a final against Axelsen, he was only looking at the brighter side. “I don’t want to complain about anything. Maybe, if I wouldn’t have fought that hard, I wouldn’t have been here. We both are attacking players. It’s very important to keep your cool and he did that very well in the second game.”
Axelsen benefitted from a favourable roll off the net, and felt things were turning in his favour after the injury setbacks over the last season or so. He had to undergo ankle surgery last year and has only recently played anywhere near his best. “I think now I’ve put the injury behind me. This is a confidence-booster after losing in the All England final.
“We always have such close matches, and today the net cord went my way. In sport, it is not far between failure and success. Srikanth beat me to win the Denmark Open and I returned the favour today,” Axelsen said.
Ratchanok breaks He duck
Ratchanok Intanon had won two India Open titles, but coming into Sunday’s final she hadn’t managed to beat He Bingjiao in their four previous meetings.
The early going suggested that trend would continue, but as the Thai shuttler got into the match, her balletic movement and wristy stroke-making put the Chinese girl off balance. He had been mighty impressive in beating PV Sindhu in the semifinals, but as the match wore on, it seemed that victory had taken a lot out of her. Once Intanon got ahead in both games, she powered towards a 21-15 21-14 win.
“I learnt from the past when I lost to her and also from her match against Sindhu yesterday,” Intanon said after the match. “Before I came to the main hall, I saw my record against her and it was 0-4 and I thought I need to break this record today. I tried to play calmly and point-by-point.”