Badminton - Kidambi Srikanth
Kidambi Srikanth being greeted by children on his arrival at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad after winning the silver at World Championship on Tuesday. Image Credit: ANI

Kolkata: Kidambi Srikanth’s exploits in the international badminton arena has, over the years, got overshadowed a bit in all the euphoria over Saina Nehwal

and PV Sindhu. All that may possibly change with the former world No.1’s sizzling performance on court in the World Championship in Spain’s Huelva where he became the first Indian men’s player to win a silver medal.

With this, the soft spoken 28-year-old has done one better than the legendary Prakash Padukone - recognised arguably as the best-ever men’s badminton player the country has ever produced. Padukone and B. Sai Praneeth, a contemporary of Srikanth, had to be content with bronze medals in 1983 and 2019 editions, respectively, while Srikanth just fell short of gold.


Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive telephone interview on his return, Srikanth said he has never bothered about any such firsts to his credit. ‘‘At the moment, I want to keep it simple. Yes, I have won a world championship medal but I need to push myself harder from here as I missed out on the gold. I am not thinking about how many firsts I have achieved,’’ said the Guntur-born player.

The World Championship silver must have come as a salve for Srikanth, who had the heartbreak of missing the cut for the Tokyo Olympics alongwith Nehwal as a number of qualifying competitions were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘‘I tried to get over the disappointment and think what’s lying ahead. My ranking was good enough to earn a qualifying berth but the circumstances were not in our control. Thinking about was not going to lead me anywhere,’’ he said.

The last four years had been a rough ride for Srikanth after the high of 2017, which saw him winning four titles: China Open, Indonesia Open, Denmark Open and French Open. A knee injury in French Open final set him back badly with critics beginning to wonder if he had seen his best as a player.

Badminton - Kidambi
Kidambi Srikanth (left) with his badminton guru Pulella Gopichand on his return from Huelva. Image Credit: ANI

Srikanth, a protege of Dronacharya Pulella Gopichand, thanked his coach and support staff profusely for setting him back on the comeback trail. ‘‘It’s always tough to come back after an injury. I must thank my coach and the support staff - they took very good care of me so that I could come this far. From my side, I had been working very hard and finally managed a Worlds medal which had been a dream for me,’’ he said.

For all the accolades that he had been picking up on return from the Worlds, Srikanth’s performance in the final - where he had gone down 15-21, 20-22 to Loh Kean Yew of Singapore in 43 minutes - could have been certainly better. ‘‘I have just come back and haven’t thought about 2022 yet, which is going to be a big year for me with events like All England, next Worlds in Tokyo (the recent edition was a backlog one due to the pandemic), Asian Games and Commonwealth Games all stacked up one after the other. Over next few days, I will discuss with my coach as to what went wrong in the final and take it from there. It’s a constant process and I cannot take a break from there,’’ he said.

The last World Championships had also seen a stellar performance by the 20-year-old Lakshya Sen, tipped to be the next big thing in men’s badminton. His campaign was ironically ended by Srikanth in a thrilling semi-final, but the senior pro feels that bronze winner Lakshya has it in him to become the next big thing in Indian badminton. ‘‘I have been following his progress. In the last few months he has beaten some top players and we can certainly expect some good performances from him,’’ he said.

Finally, what about his chemistry with ‘Gopi sir,’ with whom he has stuck through thick and thin? ‘‘He (Gopichand) has always been a great supporter of me. He understands my game well, it’s always good to have him by my side,’’ he signed off.