Kidambi Srikanth halts Lakshya Sen to enter world badminton final
- The 12th seed rallied after losing the first game to win in a prolonged men's singles semi-final that lasted one hour and nine minutes at Huelva, Spain on Saturday
Summoning every drop from his physical and experience tank, Kidambi Srikanth edged past younger compatriot Lakshya Sen to script his name in history books as the first Indian men's player to enter the final of the BWF World Championships.
The 28-year-old beat the tournament debutant 17-21, 21-14, 21-17 in the see-saw semi-final in Huelva, Spain, on Saturday. The former world No. 1, currently ranked 14, will be the first Indian male player to fight for the prestigious title, while Sen joins Prakash Padukone and B Sai Praneeth as bronze medal winners.
In the first international meeting between the two Indians, the more experienced Srikanth set the pace, opening a 4-2 lead with a leaping smash. But each time he went ahead, Sen dragged him back. A string of errors by the patchy Srikanth—a couple of them crashing at the net--didn't help as Sen got his nose in front for the first time at 8-7.
It stayed well ahead till a long rally ended with Sen finding the net as Srikanth made it 16-16. After winning the following point with some quality retrieving and defensive skills off a long rally, Srikanth had an easy miss at the net. Down on his knees with both hands on the head, it derailed Srikanth’s momentum as Sen closed out the first game.
But Srikanth gathered himself soon after a fast start by Sen in the second game, winning seven off the last eight points before the break to sit on an 11-9 advantage. As Srikanth grew into his rallying game and made the opponent travel the length and breadth of the court, Sen’s wheels started to come off. Entering the last-four clash after an energy-sapping three-game quarter-final and with a strapped right knee, Sen surrendered the second game.
Failing to put a backhand return across the court after a 50-shot rally in the fourth point of the decider, a fully stretched Sen lay down unmoved for seconds. Both Sen and his energy levels rose again, staying in the rallies and even bossing them with the odd burst of power. Srikanth wasn’t helping his cause with frequent errors, and with Sen 11-8 ahead at the break, the tables appeared to have turned. But Srikanth used all his experience to tighten his game and find the energy and skills to turn the screws, hugging his younger challenger at the net after the game.
The disappointment of missing the bus for the Tokyo Olympics aside, the year has seen Srikanth take steady strides towards regaining an optimal level that took him to the summit of the BWF world rankings in 2018. He stormed into back-to-back semi-finals at the Hylo Open—formerly called the Saarlorlux Open—and Indonesia Masters in November after losing to Viktor Axelsen in the last-four stage of the Swiss Open in March. The same month, the 28-year-old also made the quarter-finals at the Orleans Masters.