Out of All England Open 2020, Tokyo looks too far for Kidambi Srikanth

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Shared News| March 12, 2020 9:18:23 am
Kidambi Srikanth lost 21-15, 21-16 to China’s Chen Long.

There’s beauty in breakdown, and Kidambi Srikanth can look perfectly exquisite dancing around the court and lunging to the net while he’s bang in the middle of his most wretched string of results, plummeting to his darkest phase.

Most times on Wednesday in his opening round of the All England, Srikanth looked like a teenager standing ashore, looking forlornly towards a brightly-lit party boat sailing quickly away. That was the Olympics slipping out of his grasp.

But in a handful of moments, the Birmingham arena seemed to be lit up by an imposing Srikanth rising like a seashore lighthouse. Between 2-7 and 11-all in the opening game, his opponent – reigning Olympic champion Chen Long, nearing the end of his four-year title-hold – was made to look pedestrian.

Then Srikanth resumed looking ordinary. It wasn’t confidence flitting in and out of his body during a 21-15, 21-16 loss – for there’s nothing to rhapsodise in errors so banal, like lobs floating long on both clumsy flanks or a net-push falling limp in the mesh. He played plenty of rubbish returns that allowed Chen Long his signature beastly kill – which is nothing more than a steep thwack, a swat.

The 31-year-old Chinese is all things boring and brilliant – controlled, accurate, swift in throttling the shuttle and filled with endless patience for retrieving in long, ponderous rallies. He made Srikanth’s creative construction of points look prettier than they actually might be, by using his strength and precision like an automation. World no.5 and on his way to challenging another stiff genius allergic to errors – Kento Momota – at the Olympics that hopefully take off in July, the Chinese was everything Srikanth wasn’t – effective, reassured and a certainty for Tokyo. Yet, all the swoons followed Srikanth even as his Olympic dreams go up in a plume.

Srikanth, to his credit, wasn’t playing fearful percentage badminton – he was expansive in plotting out beautiful points for himself – like Arsenal before their fans’ patience with Wenger ran out. So there were the trademark set-ups: a big booming smash and a pouncing follow-up kill at the net with the quick leap of a jungle cat. Only with Srikanth do kills get described as ‘beautiful’.

The Indian started his vanguard early with a down-the-line smash and at 7-5, he whisked his wrist over an acute net winner that evoked nostalgia of a time when he was looked at as an Olympic potential. There was a reverse slice he seemed to have picked up on his recent travels and a punch clear that ended a point.

But amidst all this was a bunch of unforced errors that came in waves. Gritting his teeth, scratching his head in frustration and looking grumpier than he normally does, Srikanth would show authentic disappointment infuriating his fans even more. But then there was always the anticipation, after he levelled at 11-11, of another phase of beautiful badminton.

Twice the commentators, Steen Schleicher and Gill Clark, would launch into “you know…. But you never know” hopeful preambles to a comeback that never came. For before they could end the sentence, Srikanth would leak errors. Trailing 11-19 in the second, he once again masterfully set up a trap for the hulking Long. He sent two lollipops on the Chinese man’s back forehand corner, drawing him to commit to one side. And then sent down a cross-court smack to the other flank, to everyone’s delight.

Soon the talkers were attesting that Srikanth hadn’t lost his skill after all, just the accuracy of it all. He left the stage leaving a Srikanth-sized gap in the Olympics (though miracles in the coming month and a half can push him into the Games). Tokyo will have speed and pinpoint accuracy and control and physicality. The beauty of shuttle might be sulking somewhere in Guntur at the same time.

Jerry-Sikki give No.1s a scare

Pinching a game off the top Chinese pair Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiaong, the Indian World No. 26 Pranav Jerry Chopra and Sikki Reddy couldn’t keep the same composure in the decider. The Indians went down 21-13, 11-21, 21-17 to the No.1-ranked Chinese though there were many moments when they knew they controlled the rallies.

With national coach P Gopichand sitting behind the players, the Indians took their chances poking holes into the Chinese game. The plan involved catching the woman player Huang Ya Qiaong at the net and going for the male player Zheng’s forehand with menace.

“We played well, Gopi sir was sitting behind us giving good tips. I was feeling very positive on court because Gopi sir was like, ‘you are good at the net and can challenge her. Just trust me and challenge her on the forecourt’,” the left-handed Sikki said.

The Indians worked up some rhythm in the opener, with Jerry showing good control in his attack. Keeping the shuttle away from their opponents, controlling it to the corners, the Indians really came into their own in the second after lagging 21-13.

“Coach kept telling us to not finish the rally until we were 100 per cent sure and that patience helped in the second. Catching Zheng’s forehand was the tip that really helped,” she said.

However, the Indians would run out of steam after staying in the hunt at 10-all, chasing down a 9-3 deficit. “In the decider, wrong choice of strokes did us in,” Sikki added. Hurrying to finish after levelling the match also flat-lined them at 17-17. “We should have stayed calm and taken little more time,” she sighed.

The Indians knew their opponents well but needed constant urging to maintain the intensity. “We have played them before and know their game pretty well, so coach said ‘don’t try getting quick points. Play everything far and keep moving you legs. Enjoy the game, there is nothing to lose’,” she said. The Chinese, adept at finishing, would race to the finish and leave India’s second-best pairing to mull over their misses.

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