A really totally different trying 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 in any respect,” he stated on the telephone, laughing. “That is due to the pandemic. I didn’t reduce my hair for four-five months and began working towards like this. Then I assumed it’s only one match and I’ll play with this look.”
It has been an extended await 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 very nice to play a match after such a very long time as a result of I’ve additionally been coaching since August. Should you’re coaching you actually need to play tournaments. If there are not any tournaments you possibly can’t actually push your self,” stated Srikanth, who’s presently ranked world No.14.
Although there was a component of concern in touring and taking part in throughout a pandemic, Srikanth stated all of the gamers he spoke to in Denmark have been blissful to be again in motion.
On courtroom, Srikanth was fast to make his presence felt, zooming into the quarters with dominating wins earlier than shedding to the world No. 2, Chinese language Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen.
“I felt very nice taking part in. I used to be very comfy, transferring very well and loved myself. There’ll at all times be some areas to work on, however there may be time for the following match, there’s time to work on them,” he stated.
For Srikanth, getting again into the aggressive mode was essential–“I used to be getting higher with the matches. I wasn’t actually very fluid initially however after I performed the primary spherical I moved and performed little higher within the second and improved additional within the subsequent match. I used to be missing match apply. No less than I performed this match so I can positively do higher within the subsequent ones.”
Earlier than the pandemic hit, Srikanth was in the midst of a poor season, with seven losses in 12 outings this 12 months, 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 tip 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 believe he’s missing 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, profitable 4 and catapulting to the highest on this planet rankings. Since Handoyo’s departure later that 12 months, Srikanth has managed to achieve solely two finals—2018 Commonwealth Video games and 2019 India Open, shedding each.
“What Mulyo stated is true perhaps,” Srikanth stated, “however I by no means thought from this angle that I want a brand new coach. For me it was all about working more durable, pondering what else I can do. Mulyo has a number of expertise, has seen so many gamers, performed World and Olympic champions, so he can see that.”
This 12 months, Srikanth lastly acquired 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 not less than the Tokyo Olympics.
“Agus has a lot expertise. I really feel actually good coaching with him. It has been solely a few months since we began however I actually like his method which is slightly bit extra aggressive which fits my recreation type. The Indonesian coaching type is about transferring sooner, being extra attacking to catch the opponent off guard—that has actually helped me,” stated Srikanth. “He additionally travelled with me to Denmark, noticed my matches and is aware of what areas to work on now. It’s all because of his coaching I used to be capable of transfer freely and play extra aggressively. Let’s give it a while, one other five-six months for any change to occur. It’s solely been one match. Let’s play one other four-five and perceive one another higher.”
Srikanth should be fast and aggressive if he must make it to the Olympics. With the qualification course of set to restart subsequent 12 months, the Indian presently languishes at No.22 within the Race to Tokyo rankings. Solely a top-16 end by the closing date (week 17 of 2021) will assure him a berth in Tokyo. However Srikanth isn’t too fearful.
“If I’m doing properly, if I play at my greatest, if I’m profitable tournaments, I don’t actually need to suppose a lot about qualifying. If I win a few tournaments I’ll positively qualify for the Olympics,” he stated.