Kidambi Srikanth has badminton’s super star in between him and a place in the semi-finals at the Rio Olympics. However, the Indian has no reason to be overawed by the occasion or by the opponent—China’s Lin Dan, a two-time gold medallist and defending champ.
Srikanth has played Dan three times and has lost twice. But the victory he has scored over the multiple world champion was in the final of the China Open Super Series Premier tournament in 2014.
There are a few urban legends about Dan, one being that he can never be beaten on home turf, and the other that he can never be beaten at the Olympic Games.
There is some truth to this as it is very difficult to get the better of him at major tournaments. Dan charts out his tournaments and training in such a way that he ensures he is in peak form when the majors happen. At 32, he is nearing the end of his career and has been more selective too.
So will he be unbeatable in Rio?
Legend he may well be, but the 23-year-old Srikanth has already broken one myth—he beat Dan on his home turf. After that victory, Srikanth spoke about how he played with self belief and kept telling himself that it is not going to be easy and he will have to fight it out till the end.
“I had this belief in me that I can beat him. It was not overconfidence but I knew I had a chance,” he had said then. “I was confident because I was playing really well in the tournament and we also had a strategy in place for him.”
From the video of the match (above), it was evident that the strategy involved not giving Dan a chance to go for his powerful smashes, while Srikanth stuck to his strengths—court coverage and subtle drops from the back court, mixed with smashes, of course. The drops bothered the Chinese player more as he was forced to be in the front court more than he would have liked to be. But, having lost once before, Dan will be coming in with his own strategies for Srikanth.
Powers of Super Dan
But Super Dan has been there and done it all. He is one player who can grind out a point in a long deceptive rally or kill it in the first two seconds with similar ease.
Armed by a powerful smash as well as the weapons to make the opponent run in circles, Dan has always been hard to decipher. From the matches in Rio, it is clear that his pace and power are ready and available for him whenever he needs or wants them.
The Indian Trick
So what weakness could Srikanth possibly explore? Does he have a strategy in place like two years back at the China Open?
One approach would be to keep Dan in the front court. Srikanth is pretty adept at drops so that will be a big help. In his match against Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark, the Indian showed his remarkable court coverage as well, which will come in handy while facing Dan who is capable of stepping up the tempo. Dan can charge from a defensive position by something as simple as a flick of the wrist.
It is going to be an interesting quarterfinal match on Wednesday (5 p.m. IST), one that is likely to be a tight affair.
Srikanth, the giant-killer of the Rio badminton courts, will be mentally prepared to fight right through the match… just like he did at the China Open. Indian fans would be hoping that the result would also be the same!