Recouping from an injury that put him on the sidelines, Srikanth Kidambi is now on a mission to make up for lost time and qualify for Tokyo 2020.
It's fair to say 2019 has not been a year Srikanth Kidambi will look back on with too much fondness.
Only once did he make it to the finals during his entire campaign — at the India Open in March — where he lost out to Viktor Axelsen of Denmark. Since then, however, Srikanth has struggled to get past the opening rounds at most events, while also dealing with nagging injuries and pain.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview, Kidambi said, “Definitely, I think the first few months were a bit better but I injured my knee sometime around May, during the Sudirman Cup, and I couldn't really come back strong after that. I think for the last three to four weeks, I've been able to do well, so I'm just looking forward to getting better over the next four months."
The past few weeks have indeed been encouraging for the Padma Shri awardee, having reached the quarterfinal stage of the Syed Modi International Championships 2019, beating fellow Indian badminton player Parupalli Kashyap, before eventually being eliminated by Korea's Son Wan Ho.
Prior to that, at the Hong Kong Open 2019, Kidambi made it as far as the semifinals, beating out the likes of World number four Chen Long along the way.
Kidambi explained what led to the positive upturn, saying "I was definitely able to move better. I think that was one part that was certainly troubling me; during the World Championships and a few tournaments before and after that, I couldn't really move that well. My knee had restricted movement and I couldn't really do well.”
“For me, it's a big thing. So, if I can start improving from here, I think the next four months will be much better for me,” said Kidambi with a grin.
The 26-year-old had to skip the China Open and Korea Open due to his injury. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looming around the corner, it was quite a setback for the 26-year-old to be sitting on the sidelines for part of the season instead of priming himself.
“It's definitely a tough one for sure,” sighed Kidambi, “It's always tough when you're coming back from an injury. This being an Olympic year, it was even tougher, but that's how the sport is. You have to be able to understand your own fitness and then do the rehab and strength-conditioning well and get back.”
While the Arjuna awardee was tending to his recovery, some of his fellow countrymen did well for themselves; B Sai Praneeth and Lakshya Sen in particular.
Sizing up the competition, Kidambi commented, "Well, I think it's really nice. It's always good to have so many players doing well. It shows the strength of Indian badminton.” .
The road to Tokyo 2020 seems a little tricky for the Indian badminton contingent at the moment. However, Kidambi remains positive, “The next four months are going to be really crucial for me because I have many points to defend, so I'm really looking forward to qualifying for Tokyo 2020 now.”
"It was much straightforward last time (2016 Rio Olympics) for me, because I was the only one in the top 16 rankings. Now, Sai (Praneeth) is also in the top 16 and Sameer (Verma) was also in the top 16 for most of the last year. Then there are other players who're also coming along and getting higher in the rankings. So, the next four months are going to be tough, and really important for everyone."
When asked if he's hopeful of making the cut for Tokyo 2020, Kidambi simply flashed another grin and replied, "Yea!"
If Kidambi’s positive post-injury form continues, there’s certainly no reason to think his confidence will be misplaced. After all, it was only a year ago that he had scaled the top of the world rankings, so he why can't he reach the top again?