Kidambi Srikanth had been threatening to explode on badminton’s global stage for some time and did so in style on Sunday, claiming the China Open Super Series event.
On coach Pullela Gopichand’s 41st birthday on Sunday, the 21-year-old student went where no Indian badminton player had been — taking down his idol and Chinese legend Lin Dan on his home turf in his home tournament.
If you were to dismiss this as an upset win, Srikanth’s feat is right up there with James Buster Douglas thumping Mike Tyson, Bangladesh beating India in the 2007 cricket World Cup and Indian sprinter Bullet Bhanoth breasting Usain Bolt at the tape in the 100m final at Rio Olympics (okay, the last one is wishful thinking).
Dismissing his achievement merely as an upset, however, would be disrespectful. World and Olympic champion Super Dan, as Lin Dan is popularly known, is an enigma, but so is Srikanth.
Among the talent pool in Indian men’s badminton, he has some of the craziest of shots from acute angles.
If Parupalli Kashyap is reliable, relentless and rightfully more well-known; RMV Gurusaidutt and Sai Praneeth are the giantkillers, Ajay Jayaram is the unpredictable; HS Prannoy the strong one; Sourabh Verma the gritty one; and Arvind Bhat the marathon man, Srikanth is the silent, almost phlegmatic, assassin.
Wiry and lithe, he generates scarcely believable power and also has the deft touch at the net.
Gopichand is not given to hyperbole and is not overtly excitable either — not when he played, not when he won the All England in 2001 and not now.
He put the win in perspective after Srikanth said this was his gift to his coach. Gopichand told IANS Srikanth would not grow into a superstar overnight. “He has to be smart and progress, like he’s now, and that’s the way it is.”
After scaling the Great Wall of China in Super Dan, Srikanth’s Facebook wall has been flooded with congratulatory messages.
This is a far cry from a few month ago. Meningitis laid Srikanth low in June. This energy-sapping infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord can be dangerous. It butted in when Srikanth’s game was promising to take flight.
He had started showing a degree of consistency, beating Boonsak Ponsana to win the Thailand Open in 2013 and ending runner-up in the Indian Open in January.
From an unknown commodity in 2012, he was beginning to make the world take notice when his health took the brutal hit.
After Sunday and as the World Number 16, a spot above Kashyap, Srikanth has given proof that he is back.
For Indian badminton fans, what made Sunday a double delight was Saina Nehwal winning the women’s crown at the same Super Series event.
This is an intrusion that is sure to hurt China, a proud badminton nation.