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The glass is half full for Srikanth Kidambi. The moist hope from his run to the finals of the India Open served to soothe the cracks that appeared from a lengthy drought on the international circuit. But the world No.7 was served a grim reminder of the great chasm that has taken hold at the very top of badminton. Kento Momota has an iron clad grip over the top ranking while Jonatan Christie and Anthony Ginting are making rapid strides from the bottom of the top ten. At world No.7, Srikanth is right in the mix, but the stinging defeat to Viktor Axelsen and the arduous journey to the final are a clear reminder of the need to revisit the drawing board. Srikanth’s climb to the apex of badminton was built on a clever combination of hawkishness at the net combined with his natural talent for skinning the feathers off the shuttle. But as Axelsen demonstrated yesterday, the top badminton players have figured the means to drive Srikanth to the back of the court, negating many of the wily young man’s strengths. The winner and runners up of 2019 India Open. The BWF’s diktat asking the top 15 players to participate in at least 12 of the 15 World Tour events has made it increasingly difficult to make nuanced changes to technique during the season.
But with several aspirants seeking an Olympic hurrah, the race to Tokyo will be a mind-numbing trek around the world in search of ranking points. The qualification will be determined based on the BWF rankings on 30 April 2020. Chief National Coach Pullela Gopichand believes that the current system is a recipe for disaster. “I understand it is very important that players earn good amount of money and the prize money goes up but it is also unfair that the Olympic qualification should last a year long. It is something which needs to be looked at,” Gopichand told the PTI on the sidelines of the India Open. “I think if you win an All England or a World Championship or Asian or European Championship, there is a moment where you could think of direct qualification for these five six slots at least, something like an Olympic quota, rather than spreading it over a year’s time. “It just makes a mad rush, travelling across the world. It is a lot of strain and it is making things difficult for players,” he added. Despite the educated opinion though, the work begins in right earnest with the New Zealand Open, the first event in the qualification calendar. The challenge is to compete well enough, yet find an acceptable level at which a player can preserve energies – mental and physical – for the golden chalice that comes with Olympic success. Also Read: Srikanth falters on the big stage again Srikanth covets the idea of an Olympic medal, more than any other prize in badminton. That causes additional strain as the young man is intensely aware that Tokyo might be his best chance to win a medal. He will be edging 30 by the time the games reach Paris, far from ideal in an increasingly intense sport.
But the Olympic qualification cycle starts at the end of April. A rolling qualification calendar lasting a year is a tough test for the badminton players. Only the top 16 are guaranteed a spot at the Olympics, subject to two players per country. At the moment, Srikanth and Sameer Verma are the top-ranked Indian shuttlers.
Srikanth thrives on a natural skill for aggression, which demands that he catches the bird midcourt before flying into his thundering routine of sheer brilliance. Even though Srikanth has done exceptionally well to master the spaces around the net, the nimbleness of players such as Momota and Shi Yuqi is proving a tough challenge. The attritional battles from the back of the court are sapping the energies of Srikanth and forcing him into making errors. 2017 was the year of Srikanth Kidambi. The badminton champion finished the year with 4 Super Series titles As difficult as it might for a naturally aggressive shuttler, patience is becoming an increasingly key ingredient. Srikanth will need to adapt to the demands being placed on him and bide his time at the back of the court instead of seeking to close the argument at every possible opportunity. Srikanth’s high-octane game also demands an intense level of fitness. And in that sense, he will be better served by careful management of schedule rather than extensive travel and competition in the race to the Olympics. Easier said than done though, considering the need to play twelve events.
One of the reasons for Srikanth’s lengthy drought of titles is owing to his competitors’ ability to navigate the court well enough to prevent the Indian an opportunity to express himself freely.
The top of the game has changed and Srikanth needs to adapt his game to the evolving demands from players such as Momota and Yuqi are stretching the boundaries with their guile around the court. These young men are demolishing their opponents by clever use of the dimensions of the court, creating the space they need to kill the bird. Now is a good time for Srikanth to reexamine his footwork and absorb some inputs from his coaching team to try and stay nimble around the court without expending too much energy. Long rallies have been another area of concern for Srikanth. It is not necessary for Srikanth to engage in long rallies, but he needs to develop the patience needed to deal with them on his terms when necessary. With his most potent weapon drawing him off the court, it is important that Srikanth chooses that right moment to unleash his lethal power. In the interest of his great Olympic dream, one can only hope that Srikanth takes the time needed to sit down and examine his options during this important phase of his career. The real preparation will start in January next year, and the window till then offers Srikanth and his team an opportunity to assess the state of his game and fitness to design a carefully thought through plan to help the lad realise his Olympic dream.
But with a big dream down the road, it is time for Srikanth to take a step back and devise a new game plan for his fitness and strategy.