HYDERABAD : It has never been so good for Indian badminton. Even as Saina Nehwal retained her world number four ranking in women’s section, Kidambi Srikanth rose to a new high by becoming world number 4 in the men’s section. The 21-year-old Guntur boy emulated his coach Pullela Gopichand, who too was world number four in 2001-02 season.
It is the best ranking achieved by an Indian male in world badminton. “It’s nice to be world number four,” he said.
Exactly a year ago, he was ranked 47 in the world. But 2014 turned out to be a big year. And Gopichand thinks it is a phenomenal achievement. “To start as 47 and end the year as world number 4, is a phenomenal feat,” he said.
Former world number one and champion Morten Frost described Srikanth’s journey as unbelievable. “Many dream to end around 15 or 20 in the world in one year, but Srikanth was exceptional. He showed that he is world class,” he commented during the World Super Series finals tournament at Dubai.
In fact, Srikanth’s start in 2014 was quite modest. He was around the 20 and 30 rankings before he became world number 13 in May. However, there was a setback of sorts in July when he suffered from brain fever. It was a severe blow.
It also put him off the court and his preparations for the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow went for a toss. “It was very frustrating. I was expecting to win a medal or two at the Games,” said Srikanth, who has taken a break from the game by visiting his home town Guntur, the first time after his China Open success. Gopichand agrees that Srikanth was very low. “I simply told him to re-focus on game. He really worked hard to regain fitness. But after that, he has been unstoppable,” he pointed out.
Fortune smiled upon him in China Open Super Series. “It could be the turning point of my career. I was feeling very good and the happiest moment came when I beat Lin Dan in the final,” said Srikanth. Gopichand said he could see the progress in Srikanth’s game.
“He looked very determined. He was very keen to do well and Chinese Open gave him the breakthrough. In the past, he had entered semifinals but could not go beyond that. There is a self-belief in his game now,” he added.
Gopichand said the Chinese Open success helped Srikanth break into top ten and then a place in the Super Series finals tournament at Dubai. “He has controlled aggression. When fit, he has the ability to play some amazing strokes. He is not afraid of any big player.”
Performances in the Hong Kong Open, where he reached the semifinals, and then a last four appearance in the Super Series finals, has taken him to his career-best ranking. Gopichand said that it is important to be consistent. “There will be pressure. But at the same time it will motivate him to perform better.”
Srikanth said it will be challenging. “I have to defend my points as the new year starts. I have to be more focused and consistent in my game.” Gopichand said he would like Srikanth to be world number one. “It is not impossible. He can aim at 3,2,1 in the new year. The challenge is there for him,” he said.