Kidambi Srikanth became the first Indian shuttler to secure silver in the BWF World Championships after a disappointing last couple of years.
Kidambi Srikanth had already broken new ground when he reached the final of the BWF World Championships. In fact, new ground in men’s Badminton had already been laid when Kidambi Srikanth took on Lakshya Sen in the semi-final. PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal had already boosted the profile of women’s badminton in India and the world with their consistency in these championships. But, men’s badminton had staggered. Prakash Padukone and HS Prannoy were the only players to have won a medal in the BWF World Championships. But, in 2021, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen joined the elite list.
But, the journey for Kidambi Srikanth, in particular, was torrid. Injuries, depression, and the inability to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics raised plenty of speculation over his career. Plus, the emergence of players like Parupalli Kashyap and B Sai Praneeth, in addition to Lakshya and Prannoy, meant that he was pushed to the back of the line.
But, the journey to the BWF World Championships for Kidambi Srikanth is a story that one should never give up. After all, he is from the Gopichand Academy. The Badminton Citadel that hones champions and gives one mental strength to bounce back in the face of adversity.
The singles success that Kidambi Srikanth has enjoyed is remarkable considering that he began his career as a doubles player. For many players, making the transition from doubles to singles is challenging. But, there is a reason why Pullela Gopichand is considered the ultimate Dronacharya of our times. He recognized something different in Kidambi and decided to hone his skills there. This, despite the fact that Kidambi had secured silver and bronze in the mixed doubles and doubles event in the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games.
Kidambi Srikanth had success in singles with some big wins. The crowning moment came in 2014 in the China Open Super Series. China and Indonesia are the superpowers in badminton. Now, in the lion’s den in front of home fans, Kidambi was up against the legendary Lin Dan. Against all the odds, Kidambi Srikanth upset Lin Dan to announce his arrival on the big stage.
Superman had been tamed in front of his home fans. The Superpower was humbled. This was all thanks to the brilliance shown by Kidambi Srikanth. The win put him in the spotlight and ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sindhu and Kidambi were tipped to win a medal.
Sindhu secured the silver but Kidambi stuttered on the big stage. Despite defeating World No.5 Jan O Jorgensen, he encountered Lin Dan in the last eight stages. In the quarterfinal, he gave a tough fight but Lin Dan’s big match experience paved the way for a win. Instead of getting disappointed, Kidambi showed his mental strength and went on to script a memorable year.
Rio 2016 proved to be a big learning curve for Kidambi. Using all the experience, Kidambi won four Super Series titles in 2017. The first title was the Singapore Super Series, in which he defeated Sai Praneeth in an all-Indian final. Kidambi created history by winning the Indonesia and Australia Super Series, thus creating an Indian record of three consecutive finals wins. The Australia win was special, as he defeated another great player in Chen Long.
Wins in Denmark and France propelled him in the rankings. After silver in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Kidambi was the World No.1. It was the ultimate fulfillment of the journey.
But, good times do not last. After the World No.1 ranking, Kidambi suffered knee injuries that had slowed him down. Knee injuries can prove to be fatal for a career. Just ask Saina Nehwal. The knee injuries came at a time when he was losing finals. After the injury, he started losing to unknown players and that dented his confidence in a big way. When the coronavirus pandemic affected the Badminton schedule in a big way, it impacted Kidambi in a big way.
With no tournaments to be played and with his world ranking not improving, Kidambi failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. From the high of No.1, the failure to qualify for Tokyo was the biggest fall.
One can argue that the BWF Championship field was weakened by the absence of Chinese and Indonesian shuttlers, in addition to Kento Momota skipping the tournament. Cynics might point out that Kidambi had to go through a field that did not have many of the big players.
But, in the disappointment of Sindhu not securing a medal, all hopes rested on the men. Lakshya Sen and Kidambi carried the flame, with Lakshya securing the bronze. But, in the final against Loh Kean Yew, he failed to capitalise on the big moments and he lost. One can again say that he botched up a big final. It was a repeat of the 2017 Glasgow World Championships, where he lost in the quarterfinal when he was tipped to do well. Commonwealth, Asiad and all subsequent World events saw Kidambi not win the big moments.
But, the pain that Kidambi has endured in the last couple of years makes this moment momentous. Kidambi has shown that Indian men’s badminton is now in safe hands. With Lakshya Sen emerging as a talent for the future, the 2021 BWF World Championship might once spring hopes in the hearts of a billion fans.