NEW DELHI, Sept 15: His form a bit wobbly, India’s Kidambi Srikanth is trying to iron out the flaws and hoping to be third time lucky, as he chases an elusive Asian Games medal in Hangzhou.
A former world number one, Srikanth, who has endured a topsy-turvy 2023 to fall to world number 21, finished at the round of 16 and 32 in 2014 and 2018 editions of Asian Games at Incheon and Jakarka respectively.
The 30-year-old from Guntur, who has won medals in major events such as the Commonwealth Games and World Championships, earned his place in the Asian Games team after topping the selection trials. Now he wants to make full use of the opportunity to add to his success.
“I didn’t have great memories in the Asian Games, the last two times I didn’t do well in individual events. So this time, if I can play well really then probably I can make something for myself,” Srikanth told PTI.
“So for me it is quite simple because I have won medals in every other big event except for Asian Games and Olympics, both of which happen once in four years, so this is an opportunity for me to go and make full use of it this time.”
Syed Modi remains the only Indian men’s singles player to win a medal — bronze — at the Asian Games. He won in the inaugural edition in 1982.
Asked if it adds to the pressure, Srikanth said: “I don’t really look at it like that. For me it is more about what I am doing. For me it is about an opportunity now and I want to do well.”
Talking about his preparation, he said: “For Games like these, say Olympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, the preparation will be a little different compared with any other super series events.
“We have 10-15 events every year, but Asian Games happen every four years and you have to earn your entry in the team. Sometimes even if you are in the top 20 you might not get into Asian Games.
“It is one of the toughest events in badminton. It is an Asian dominated sport and it is going to be tough. To win a medal you have to be at your best, really have to try thinking about winning the Asian Games.”
Srikanth, however, hasn’t been on fire since fashioning India’s epic Thomas Cup title win last year. He has managed four quarterfinal finishes in 15 tournaments in 2023.
“I feel it is more about the issue of consistency. I couldn’t play some tournaments well but those which I played well, it tells me that if I can be consistent enough I can win matches.
“I am trying to get some quality practice time and do everything that I can, be physically fit and feel good mentally. All I want at the moment is to cut down on errors in practice and replicate it in the tournament.”
Keeping the Paris Olympics in mind, Srikanth had hired Indonesian coach Wiempie Mahardi to help him ramp up his game but constant travelling due to the hectic BWF schedule has left him with less time to train.
Srikanth, a winner of four Super series titles, said he is picking the brains of chief coach Pullela Gopichand to regain his lost touch.
“I am talking to Gopi bhaiyaa and understanding what he thinks because he has been travelling in the last few months, so trying to understand what are the areas that I need to work on. I am taking his inputs and trying to do it,” he said.
“The coach (Mahardi) came in May but I have been playing a lot of tournaments so didn’t get much time to really train with him. I think he is still really trying to understand what my natural style is and then trying to prepare a programme accordingly.
“It is such a crucial year, we really don’t have time to take things slowly, that is one of the reasons I am trying to talk to Gopi bhaiya, because he has been training me for so many years.”
The qualification period for the 2024 Olympics began from May 1 and Srikanth is currently at 22 in the Race to Paris rankings, behind HS Prannoy (3) and Lakshya Sen (6).
“Olympic qualification will always be there in my mind but at the moment I just want to perform consistently. If I can do that in the super series and Asian Games then automatically, I will be in the top 12,” he said.
“I am looking to perform, probably play semifinals and win some tournaments and it will take care of rankings, so I am just focused on performance rather than ranking.”
‘If we can replicate Thomas Cup form, we will have a medal chance’
India hasn’t won a men’s team medal in the last 37 years. The country had claimed three bronze medals in men’s team events in 1974 Tehran, 1982 New Delhi and 1986 Seoul.
However, India will be going to the Asian Games as the Thomas Cup winners this time.
“It is just a year after Thomas Cup win. We could do well there because all of us could perform on that day when it mattered, so if we can replicate that then we definitely have a chance,” Srikanth said.
“We haven’t done well as a team in the recent past in Asian Games, we won bronze a very long time back.
“See every country will come with their best possible team. There won’t be easy matches. Individually we have done well. Obviously we have a chance. We have to come together as a team and just have to take it when it is there.” (PTI)