Mumbai: While Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have been the chief architects to popularise badminton in India in recent times, what Kidambi Srikanth has done last year, winning four Super Series titles, is unparalleled. His rise has not only brightened the Indian badminton scene, but it has also given the sport in a big impetus. What it has also done that it has sent out a strong signal to the world that Indian men’s badminton is on the rise and here to stay.
Srikanth was recently in Mumbai for TOISA 2018 and on the sidelines of the event, he sat down for a chat where he spoke about his comeback from injury, his targets for the upcoming tournaments and Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and All England Championships, crammed schedule, his idols, the Padma Shri award and more.
Here are the excerpts:
Q) You recently made a comeback from the injury. So, how was the entire process? Last year was very hectic in terms of the schedule, more so, considering you played in a lot of finals?
It has been good. I played well in the India Open and in the team event that we played in Malaysia. I beat Shi Yuqi. So, it really gives me a lot of confidence. It tells me that I have actually become better after a week. So, I am really happy that I am actually getting back.
Q) Last year, you have zoomed into top five, winning four Super Series titles. But you have maintained that rankings will take care of themselves. So, has the stand still the same? What will you prefer, more Super Series titles or World Number 1?
It’s definitely titles. This year, I have four big tournaments – Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Badminton World Championships and All England. If I can really do well in all the Super Series events, my rank will still remain (in a good position). If I end up winning medals in all the four events this year, maybe, three years later, say by 2020 or 2022, people will say that I am so and so who has won an Asian Games medal or CWG medal or he is not so and so who was world number 1 but could not go on to win medals. So, I really want to do well and win medals.
Q) How much of an impact did your brother Kidambi Nandagopal have in you taking up the sport and then pursuing it?
He has been an influence. I started playing the sport because of him. I used to just go the stadiums with him. That’s how it all started for me. So, if he would not have started playing then, I would not have been into the sport. So, that’s how important his role was.
Q) How big an influence Gopichand sir has been on your career, not just for on your on-court career, but may be how you take certain decisions off-court too?
Definitely, he has been someone whom I have always admired. Someone, who is so cool while taking decisions, knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. While on court, while playing, I take my own decisions, but off the court, most of the times, I ask for his advice. He is there for me all the time. So, I am really lucky to be training under him.
Q) During your fine run of form last year, where you won four Super Series titles, while your game was brilliant, what was really heartening to see was your fitness; be it covering the court or even at times, diving. So, how do you work on that particular bit? Does it come naturally or do you have to work?
I don’t really try to dive. It just happens depending on the condition, situation and intensity of the match. But ultimately, it is the will to win. That’s what matters.
Q) Mulyo Handoyo recently left the job. So, how was it working with him? And how much of an impact will it be not to have him around?
I think he definitely brought the change. (He was) someone, who really has big experience, (with) about 30 years of coaching experience, which is huge. Not many coaches have such a big experience. It was a big advantage when he joined the Indian team last year as a coach. It was Gopi sir and him taking the decisions together. So, to a point, I certainly miss him, but I was under Gopi sir, for a long time, I have played under him like Olympics quarterfinal and I won my first Super Series under him. So, he will definitely be one of my biggest coaches.
Q) Recently, you were conferred with Padma Shri. How big a moment it was for you and the entire family, considering you achieved it at such an early age?
I am really happy to receive the award. I would say it is a great support and a big confidence booster going into the big year. I am really looking forward to continue to make the nation proud.
Q) There has been a big debate about the crammed schedule, about the shuttlers having to pick and choose the events, retain their fitness etc. What’s your take on the same?
The increased number of tournaments will definitely take a toll on players for sure. Even last year, I hardly managed to play about 8-9 Super Series and this year, the minimum is 12 which I won’t even think I will be able to play because I have already skipped two tournaments in January. So, it is definitely going to be tough. But I really want to do well in the tournaments I play. I don’t really want to think about the minimum tournaments and play tournaments just for the sake of playing tournaments.
Q) There’s Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and All England Championships in March, in addition to Super Series events this year. How are you planning to go ahead with that?
I really want to point out tournaments and think about the important tournaments for myself and keep myself fit for those tournaments. That’s it. All the other Super Series are going to be there every year. I would not say that they are not important. But they are there every year. Asian Games or Commonwealth Games are something that comes every four years. It’s like a chance missed is a chance missed. I am not really sure whether I can really go ahead and play the 2022 Asian Games or Commonwealth Games. So, this year, having a chance and considering the form I am in, I really want to push myself and do well.
Q) With this scheduling, how important has the diet aspect has become, in addition to fitness and training? How do you go about it?
It has become more important for everyone because you don’t really have too much time, which was not the case till last year where you had a gap of four-five weeks. This year, the longest gap that I have got is now because I have skipped Swiss Open and German Open. So, throughout the year, in next ten months, I don’t really have three continuous weeks of training. I don’t really want to do anything new. I want to continue doing which has been working well for me in a last couple of years.
Q) Saina has made a comeback, Sindhu is doing well and so are the Indian men’s. You had won 4 Super Series titles last year. Sindhu, during one of her recent interviews, said that it is one of the best periods for Indian badminton; especially the men’s badminton.
It is not just about me winning the four Super Series titles. The doubles players have done really well and reached the semifinals in a couple of Super Series which was never the case before. It definitely shows that we are getting better. And if we continue doing well, train hard, it will only get better from here.
Q) How motivating is it to see your fellow shuttlers and sparring partners – B Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy do well? How is it to face them in the big events?
It is not really motivating to see a fellow player not do well. (A fellow player winning the tournament) gives us confidence that even we can do well. That’s a good sign. In fact, Sameer Verma won a tournament recently (Swiss Open), (Parupalli) Kashyap won the Austrian Open. It definitely shows that we can do well and win the tournaments consistently and it’s a big advantage to have so many top players at the same place.
Q) Final question. Who have been your idols?
There were about three, in fact. One is Gopi sir, whom I have grown up watching. Then, there’s Lin Dan for all his achievements and for the way he plays. And non-badminton (idol), is Roger Federer....