Resurgent Kidambi Srikanth a step closer to world championship podium finish


Srikanth outplayed unseeded Guang Zu Lu of China 21-10, 21-15 to enter the last eight.

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Shared News: December 17, 2021 8:29:55 am
Srikanth is bonafide world-class. He showed as much to Lu Guang Zu with a 21-10, 21-15 dismissal in the pre quarters.(File)

A World Championship that has inadvertently culled out physical, one-dimensional, tight-controlled automaton games in men’s singles, is seeing a bunch of has-beens, daisy-fresh upstarts and assorted journeymen find their place under a muted sun.

The big names – Momota, Axelsen, Chen Long, Shi Yuqi, Chou Tien Chen – those with mistakes you could count on one hand’s fingers on their clinical days, those who abhor errors of a straying shuttle, those whose perfection hems in the bird as if on a verbal incantation, none of them made it to tournament Thursday. Half of them never turned up at the fag end of the physically charred and exhausted season.

It’s left an assorted bunch, some of whose beautiful, quirky, committed, reserved, exuberant, rakish and nascent games would not go this deep into the tournament, fighting for the global medals. The Olympics dwarf World Championships in 2021. But what’s bloomed unexpectedly are games nursed bashfully with passion and care, that aren’t always setting pre-conditions of commando-level run-till-you-drop-dead fitness. Like Kidambi Srikanth vs Mark Caljouw, one of whom will leave Huelva with a World’s medal.

Srikanth is bonafide world-class. He showed as much to Lu Guang Zu with a 21-10, 21-15 dismissal in the pre quarters. He was even World No.1 for a week, and a Super Series superstar of yore. Circa 2017. But more than his win-percentage, his title counts, a calculation of his umpteen missed opportunities, and a blinding hole of the 2021 Olympic qualification, it was the caged Srikanth game that needed an enabling platform, a push of luck, a validation of success.

Kidambi Srikanth is easily India’s most watchable badminton star when on song. His jump smashes, his follow ups at the net, the Elvis Presley dancing defense off the body attacks, his beautifully carved rallies which are stories unto themselves. His sheer love for court craft. All of these make him an entertaining player to watch, except early exits have cut short his headlining acts far too often. Now suddenly, with a sprinkling of luck, Srikanth is in the quarters of the World’s, with a whiff of a medal.

He’s put his head down since the start of this year, through the period when he missed out on Tokyo qualification, and thereafter, looking like he’s enjoying the game once more.

At most times, it’s been about slow shuttles and his attacking game not adapting to the dull rigour of retrievals. His knee went dodgy on him too snapping his explosive bursts. But rejuvenated now, Srikanth looks ready to convert his skill into medals.

Across the court from him is Mark Caljouw, a Dutchman who underwent a condition of Arterial fibrillation, where his heartbeats could clock 250 per minute. A heart surgery few months ago steadied his heart beat, even as he ached to return to a sport he loved.

Following his brothers into the backyard games of shuttle, Caljouw has eschewed a throbbing social life to devote his youth to the unlikely sport. He’s a hard-working scrambler, lurking at the net, hitting shuttles higher than most. Not a favourite against Srikanth, he will nevertheless back his ability to fight till the last winner.

Both players come from nations with great role models in the sport. Caljouw had the great Mia Audina, while Srikanth has watched Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu succeed at the highest levels. Yet, like Bao Chunlai of China or Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand, Caljouw and Srikanth’s games will be remembered for moments of magic on court.

On Friday, the two who paint lovely sketches with their quirky strokes, will fight it out for one assured medal. Depleted the field maybe, but there’s a few quiet ones, waiting to let out a roar.