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2019 Indonesia Open is nearing its end and Indian badminton fans have been treated to the same story; no Indian men's badminton player in the semi finals of a Tier 1 BWF tournament. What has happened to the Indian men's shuttlers? There are a lot of questions from fans and very little answers from the players.
Is Srikanth still the best Indian player in the circuit ?Kidambi Srikanth and Sameer Verma are the highest ranked players in the circuit in the 9th and 12th position respectively. Srikanth's rise in the badminton was meteoric and unprecedented in modern times - but here we are in 2019 and a year away from the Olympics, his steep decline is at the same pace of how he had rose, if not worse. His only final appearance in a Super Series was in March in his home ground where he unsurprisingly lost to Axelsen against whom he has a 1-6 win-loss record.
But everything since then has been a downhill. The pattern continued in 2018, with Srikanth failing to qualify for the World Tour Finals where top 8 players in the calendar year qualify leaving Sameer Verma, who had barely managed to qualify for it by winning the Syed Modi title, thus making him the only Indian to qualify for the year end tournament.
It goes without saying that 2017 was his best year, when he became only the fourth player to win four men's singles Super series titles in a calendar year.
2019 was a tad better for Srikanth as he progressed to quarter final in most tournaments, but ran into elite players in every tournament.
In the same year Srikanth had been knocked out very early in all elite Super 1000 tournaments. He was knocked out in the first round in All England Open, a third round exit against lower seeded Daren Liew in the World Championships, and a second round exit in Indonesia Open.
After this tournament he moved to the quarter finals in Singapore Open and again ran into world number 1 Momota, but this time managed to push him to 3 sets - an improvement from his previous meeting in All England.
He was knocked out in the All England Open by the World no 1 Momota in the quarter finals and was knocked out in the Indian Open final by reigning Olympics bronze medalist Axelsen which was followed by a quarter final exit after being handed a defeat by current Olympic gold medalist Chen Long.
So what exactly is preventing Srikanth from pushing the next gear?If you have seen Srikanth play over the calendar year you can see that he has the tendency to start slow in the big matches and be very wary of the opponent. This cautious approach has cost him and before he realizes that he needs a shift in gear, the game is already out of his grasp. https://twitter.com/sandyyunited/status/1114098707941560325 His inability to command a game in big matches, and to be fair to him, that's been the case for all Indian shuttlers in both men's singles and doubles circuit as a whole. Also it comes as no surprise that the departure of Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo had a great effect on every Indian player. Srikanth's performances declined once Handoyo left the Indian team and has shown no big signs of improvement under Gopichand. However over the past few months BAI has took an effort to address this by adding two experienced Korean coaches in the form Asian Games gold medallist Kim Ji Hyun and Olympian Park Tae Sang.
If not Kidambi, then who?The short answer is no one else. Sameer Verma has shown promising signs of coming through at big stage, but his career graph over the past year or two is strikingly similar to Srikanth and has been plagued by highs and lows. So practically Srikanth and Sameer are the brightest options that India have. Let's take a look at the rankings of players in each country to show the disparity between Indian players and other nations with some depth in men's singles. India - Srikanth (9), Sameer Verma (12), Prannoy (31), Kashyap (35) China - 4 players under top 20 (Chen Long, Lin Dan, Shi Yuqi, Lu Guang Zu) Indonesia - 3 players under top 20 (Ginting, Christie, Sugiarto) Japan - 3 players under top 20 (Momota, Nishimoto, Tsuneyema) Denmark - 3 players under top 20 (Axelsen, Antonsen, Vittinghus) Even countries like Thailand under the live Tour ranking have more depth players under Top 20 than India has. This shows a disparity in the levels between Tier 2 players of India with other countries. An evidence of the fact is that the Tier 2 players from India recently went to Tier 4 BWF tournaments such as the Canada Open and US Open and still didn't return with the title in both tournaments where no stars from any of the countries participated. This tells how much is the form level of the Tier 2 players in India. A statement by the commentator during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
So where exactly does Srikanth stand?Despite a start-stop career over the past 2 years, Srikanth's achievements makes him India's best player, but considering his inferior record against the top players, he is likely to be recognised now as a Tier 2 player who can't slay the best in business. He is just a notch below the very best - Kento Momota, Viktor Axelsen, Chen Long, Shi Yuqi, Ginting. To push to that level, Srikanth has so little time left and so many to improve. A lot has been said about Handoyo's departure, but can the new Korean coaches take him to the next level ? Will this change usher a growth in Kidambi? Time has the answer, but it's running fast with just over a year left for Olympics.