Feature | Badminton

India’s former world number one Kidambi Srikanth: How I plan to regain my winning touch 

Following a season of nagging injuries, the 26-year-old prioritises staying injury-free ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

By Sanjeev Palar ·

On the face of it, 2019 is probably a season that Kidambi Srikanth wants to forget.

India's top ranked men's singles badminton player has only made one final on tour this season, where he finished runners-up to Denmark's Viktor Axelsen at the India Open in March.

Before his run to the latter stages at the Hong Kong Open, Srikanth had suffered first round exits at the Japan Open, Denmark Open and French Open and had to pull out of the Korea Open as well as the China Open with a nagging right knee injury.

This pales in comparison to his 2017 season which saw him clinch four singles crowns, winning the French Open, Danish Open, Australian Open, and Indonesian Open.

Despite his below-par performances this year, the 26-year-old has a clear plan on how to return to his winning ways ahead of the all important Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: To stay injury-free and to keep working hard.

"I want to go back and train for a longer period, and I think if I can do that from now, I will be in good shape for the Olympics.” - Kidambi Srikanth to Badminton World Federation (BWF)

Riddled by injury

Srikanth became the first Indian male shuttler to become world number one in April 2018.

But since then he's endured a difficult time on court, especially after injuring his right knee at the Sudirman Cup in May.

His slide from No.1 to No.10 in the world rankings can mostly be pinned to injuries, which the India star believes have prevented him from establishing winning momentum.

“In the last eight to 10 months, I haven’t been able to train for a longer period, I was getting injured and then coming back and training for a week or two and then playing a tournament, and then I’m pushing too much at tournaments and injuring myself again. - Kidambi Srikanth to BWF

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It's not only about the stats

Despite the scorecard, Srikanth believes that 2019 has not been as bad as it looks from the outside - after taking into account the injuries that he's had to deal with.

His first round defeats this season have been at the hands of formidable opponents like world number two Chou Tien Chen at the French Open and before that to world number four Anders Antonsen at the Danish Open as well as fellow countryman and world number eleven, Sai Praneeth, at the Japan Open.

As he shared with The Bridge "It is not as if I’m out of form but just that it is never easy to hit the straps when you are not playing for a certain period owing to injuries"

With that in mind, the Hyderabadi has decided to take a more conservative approach towards competitions to ensure he stays injury-free, even if it means a hit to his ranking. After all, Tokyo 2020 is coming up soon.

"I don’t want to push hard for results since I’m coming off an injury and would want to ease myself into form.” - Kidambi Srikanth to The Bridge.

Olympic glory beckons

Srikanth made his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, then ranked 11th in the world.

He managed to reach the quarterfinals by defeating world number five Jan O Jorgensen from Denmark before he was denied a shot at a medal by two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan.

As Tokyo 2020 draws closer, Kidambi is well aware that a nation can enter a maximum of two men's singles players if both are within the top 16 of the BWF Race To Tokyo rankings, which are calculated from 29 April 2019 to 26 April 2020.

Following his China Open withdrawal, Srikanth is 48th on the list with seven other compatriots above him in the rankings.

But he remains optimistic.

"There are as many as four tournaments during the January-April 2020 period and if anyone can win a Super 500 event or even one Super 750 event, he will be in with a chance of making the Olympic cut." - Kidambi Srikanth to The Bridge

It sounds like the former world number one has a plan of action, and he was quick to emphasise that it will be important to "stay focussed, injury-free and perform" in the hope of making it back to the top of his game and the Olympic stage.