A really totally different wanting Kidambi Srikanth turned up for the Denmark Open final month in Odense. Sporting a full beard and lengthy hair held again by a bandana, the 27-year-old former world No. 1 appeared to have come out of the pandemic-enforced hibernation having undergone a makeover.
“It’s nothing at all,” he stated on the cellphone, laughing. “This is because of the pandemic. I did not cut my hair for four-five months and started practicing like this. Then I thought it’s just one tournament and I’ll play with this look.”
It has been an extended anticipate Srikanth to step again on the courts. The final time he performed earlier than the $750,000 occasion in Denmark was on the All England in March, the place he misplaced within the opening spherical.
“It felt really nice to play a tournament after such a long time because I have also been training since August. If you’re training you really want to play tournaments. If there are no tournaments you can’t really push yourself,” stated Srikanth, who’s at present ranked world No.14.
Though there was a component of worry in touring and taking part in throughout a pandemic, Srikanth stated all of the gamers he spoke to in Denmark have been glad to be again in motion.
On courtroom, Srikanth was fast to make his presence felt, zooming into the quarters with dominating wins earlier than dropping to the world No. 2, Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen.
“I felt really nice playing. I was very comfortable, moving really well and enjoyed myself. There will always be some areas to work on, but there is time for the next tournament, there’s time to work on them,” he stated.
For Srikanth, getting again into the aggressive mode was essential–“I was getting better with the matches. I wasn’t really very fluid initially but after I played the first round I moved and played little better in the second and improved further in the next match. I was lacking match practice. At least I played this tournament so I can definitely do better in the next ones.”
Before the pandemic hit, Srikanth was in the course of a poor season, with seven losses in 12 outings this yr, together with three back-to-back first rounds defeats in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in January. The speedy future regarded bleak as properly, with the top of the Olympic qualification interval approaching and Srikanth discovering himself outdoors the Race to Tokyo rankings earlier than the pandemic led to the suspension of the season.
Former coach Mulyo Handoyo, who guided the legendary Taufik Hidayat to the 2004 Athens Olympics gold, was of the opinion that Srikanth wanted a brand new coach to provide him some route; “I think he’s lacking motivation,” the Indonesian had stated then.
It was underneath Handoyo, who’s now chief coach of Singapore, that Srikanth reached 5 Superseries finals in 2017, successful 4 and catapulting to the highest on this planet rankings. Since Handoyo’s departure later that yr, Srikanth has managed to succeed in solely two finals—2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 India Open, dropping each.
“What Mulyo said is true maybe,” Srikanth stated, “but I never thought from this angle that I need a new coach. For me it was all about working harder, thinking what else I can do. Mulyo has a lot of experience, has seen so many players, played World and Olympic champions, so he can see that.”
This yr, Srikanth lastly received a brand new coach, Indonesia’s Agus Dwi Santoso, who joined the nationwide setup in March however solely began coaching in August due to the lockdown. Santoso will help Gopichand until at the very least the Tokyo Olympics.
“Agus has so much experience. I feel really good training with him. It has been only a couple of months since we started but I really like his approach which is a little bit more aggressive which suits my game style. The Indonesian training style is about moving faster, being more attacking to catch the opponent off guard—that has really helped me,” stated Srikanth. “He also travelled with me to Denmark, saw my matches and knows what areas to work on now. It’s all thanks to his training I was able to move freely and play more aggressively. Let’s give it some time, another five-six months for any change to happen. It’s only been one tournament. Let’s play another four-five and understand each other better.”
Srikanth must be fast and aggressive if he must make it to the Olympics. With the qualification course of set to restart subsequent yr, the Indian at present languishes at No.22 within the Race to Tokyo rankings. Only a top-16 end by the closing date (week 17 of 2021) will assure him a berth in Tokyo. But Srikanth isn’t too fearful.
“If I’m doing well, if I play at my best, if I’m winning tournaments, I don’t really have to think so much about qualifying. If I win a couple of tournaments I’ll definitely qualify for the Olympics,” he stated.