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On top of the world

Posted April 12th, 2018, 10:41 AM IST

On top of the world

Hyderabad: Fresh after helping India to the mixed team event gold at the Commonwealth Games, shuttle ace Srikanth Kidambi is set to soar — to the No.1 rank in the world badminton! No Indian male has ever got there since the computerised ranking system was introduced, though his female counterpart Saina Nehwal had reached that spot back in 2015.

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With 76,895 points Srikanth will overtake Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen when the Badminton World Federation releases its weekly rankings on Thursday. Axelsen will drop to second at 75,470 as he loses 1,660 of his 77,130 points because of his inability to defend them from last year’s Malaysian Open. Rankings are calculated by the points a player accumulates in 10 best tournaments over the previous 52 weeks.

Srikanth is understandably jubilant but is looking beyond the milestone. “I am very happy about reaching the top but that is only one side of the coin. The other, and the most important one, is staying right there for as long as possible, that’s all I am thinking about right now,” he told this newspaper on Wednesday from Gold Coast in Australia where he is participating in the Commonwealth Games.
Born in Ravulapalem in Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), Srikanth took to badminton by chance. “I was eight years old, it was just some sort of a hobby/ fun then,” he recalls. “Later, slowly I got sucked into the sport and began liking it. I took it up seriously when I was 16, back in 2009... that’s when I joined the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy and moved to Hyderabad.”

That was the crucial turn. National coach Gopi has had a huge role to play in Srikanth’s career. “There’s so much to say about him. He was the first one who had the thought of shifting me from doubles to singles. He was the one who has always believed I was cut out for bigger things and has continued to support me through my career,” the 25-year-old says.

That meant Srikanth was not intimidated by the Lin Dans and Lee Chong Weis who dominated the badminton scene. “They are great players who everyone admires but it is up to every youngster to look up to them and work hard to be able to reach their level someday. My thoughts were the same.”

He went one up though, beating both badminton legends in his career. “Well, nothing is impossible. If you stay focussed and work hard, you can get what you want,” he quips.

However, the road to success wasn’t too smooth. “There were quite a few hurdles, they are part of everyone’s life I guess. For me, dealing with injuries and coming out of them were some of the tough challenges to overcome. But luckily, I had a good set of coaches and support staff to back me up in hard times — through injuries or bad patches when I was not performing well on court. They gave me a lot of confidence during those rough periods,” Srikanth says.

“It takes a lot of hard work — the training, mental battles, injuries. Badminton being an individual sport, it is a challenge to better yourself every day, else you are bound to fall. A sportsman needs a fair bit of luck here and there as well and I think fortune favoured me a lot of times too. Thankfully, everything worked for me and things fell in place at the right time,” he explains.

Excessive travel, strict diet, is that the downside? “Yes, but the moment you love what you are doing, all those things don’t seem so hard at all — you just blend yourself in. Luckily, my parents have moved to Hyderabad so whenever I return from tournaments abroad and am back at training, I do feel very much at home,” Srikanth says.

Ask him about his parents’ reaction to his latest status, and he laughs, before elaborating: “I haven’t been able to speak to them much since I was continuously travelling/ playing for the last 10-12 days. I am sure they are very happy, will surely catch up with mom and dad soon.”

True to his nature, Srikanth has a simple message to youngsters. “One should have the ability to excel at the international level. For that to happen you simply have to work hard and believe in yourselves,” he says.

Having won titles by the dozen and powered his way to the top, what’s the best accolade he has received so far? “I don’t how to put it, but people don’t give me any compliments directly,” Srikanth laughs loudly. Well, all that will change from today.

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