Srikanth Kidambi: A Federer-esque resurgence after returning from injury
Born on 7 February, 1993, in Andhra Pradesh, badminton player Srikanth Kidambi is currently at the peak of his game. Kidambi became the first Indian to win back-to-back Super Series titles after he demolished Olympic champion Chen Long 22-20, 21-16 to clinch the Australian Open in Sydney.
A product of the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy, Kidambi comes from a humble background. His father, KVS Krishna, is a landlord, while his mother, Radha, is a housewife. His elder brother K Nandagopal, is also a badminton player. In fact, Nandagopal and Kidambi reached the semifinals off the 77th Senior National Badminton Championships in 2012. This was the first time in four decades that two brothers had reached the semifinals.
Five years later, though, Kidambi is on top of the badminton world, leaving his older brother in the shadows.
Kidambi shot to fame after defeating Chinese and former world number one Lin Dan 21-19, 21-17 in the final of the 2014 China Open Super Series Premier, becoming the first Indian to win a Super Series Premier Men's title in the process.
Kidambi is an all-out attacking player. His jump smashes are unlike ever seen before from any player in the country, Whilst he used to lose his cool often, in recent times, he has kept a cool head when under immense pressure.
Kidambi and his brother Nandagopal have been training at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy since 2008. Prior to that, they were training under Sudhakar Reddy in Visakhapatnam. Kidambi's true rise though, began in 2011.
Competing at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man, he earned two medals - the boy's doubles bronze and mixed double's silver. Then, at the All India Junior International Badminton Championship in Pune the same year, he won the men's singles and doubles titles, making the world sit up and take notice of the boy from Andhra Pradesh.
A star is born
A year later, in 2012, at the Maldives International Challenge, Srikanth defeated then-junior world champion Zulfadli Zulkiffli of Malaysia to claim the men’s singles title. At the time, Parupalli Kashyap was the top Indian male badminton player. That year though, Kidambi beat Kashyap at the All India Senior National Championships, claiming his first senior national title.
In 2014, he competed in the mixed-team event at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where the Indian contingent reached the semifinals.
By defeating Lin Dan at the 2014 China Open Super Series Premier, Kidambi qualified for the year-end BWF Super Series Masters Finals tournament. He defeated Kento Momota and Tommy Sugiarto on his way to the semifinals. In the semis, he once again lost to arch-rival and nemesis Chen Long (the eventual winner).
In 2015, he became the first Indian to win the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold, beating Viktor Axelsen in the process. Having more than underlined his credentials, Kidambi reached a career-high rank of three.
Reaching the top
In 2016, he bagged two gold medals at the South Asian Games in the men's team and men's singles events. At the 2016 Badminton Asia Team Championships, India was knocked out in the semifinals, despite Kidambi remaining undefeated. In the Olympics, he came agonisingly close to defeating Olympic-champion Lin Dan. However, this surge proved to be a false start as he suffered a stress fracture soon after, and was out of action for over three months.
2017 though, has finally been a golden year for him. It was the run to the final at the Singapore Open final, losing only to fellow compatriot Sai Praneeth, that helped him regain his confidence after the injury lay-off. Prior to that, he had reached the pre-quarters at the German Open, and the semi-finals of the India Open Grand Prix.
After returning from injury, Kidambi competed in the second edition of the Premier Badminton League. It was his strength at figuring out how to win big matches despite not being at peak fitness levels that really elevated his game this year.
His most important match, since the loss to Lin Dan at the Olympics, came in the recent Australian Open final against Olympic champion Chen Long, a player he had lost his previous five encounters with. This was also Kidambi's third successive Superseries final. He did it. He defeated Chen Long in straight sets and became only the second Indian (after Saina Nehwal) to rise to the top of the Destination Dubai Rankings.
At the age of just 24, and with nine titles in the bag, Srikanth is hungry for more success. Having finally overcome Long, Lee Chong Wei is the only top player Kidambi hasn't beaten. Maybe that opportunity will come sooner rather than later. Hopefully, one day, he will improve upon his all-time highest ranking by becoming the world number one male badminton player, emulating fellow countryman Saina Nehwal, who reached the summit of women's badminton in April of 2015.