Kidambi Srikanth vs Lakshya Sen in semi-final, secures India’s first place ever in men’s world badminton


THE Wrists of Indian badminton are no longer spinning for touch games online. They fall down like a hammer. Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen could well have the artistic when they prowl online. But in the most visible transformation, it is explosive force and an aggressive charge that dominated India’s men’s breakthrough to the World Cup top tier on Friday.

Both Srikanth and Lakshya won with wildness on the net, not the traditional decline of flair and finesse. The two play against each other for a place in the final on Saturday, ensuring an Indian man competes in a World Cup final for the first time ever.

Two men’s singles medals had come India’s way in the last 38 years – Prakash Padukone in 1983 and B Sai Praneeth in 2019. This year, the draw opened up after the world’s No. 1 Japanese Kento Momota, two top Chinese and Indonesians withdrew, and then a A couple other Top Tenners were taken out of the fair and square playing indifferent badminton. But it would still be necessary for the Indians to sling them away in their path for medals.

Kidambi Srikanth had an easy victim in Mark Caljouw, who defeated the Dutchman 21-8, 21-7 in 26 minutes. Lakshya Sen battled a stubborn Chinese, Zhao Jun Peng, 21-15, 15-21, 22-20, including parrying a match point that showed a nervous appetite for a scrap – one he won.

Between the two, Srikanth, a former world No. 1, and Lakshya, a debutant at World’s, took 3 of the 4 Chinese from the draw and threw themselves over the medals on offer.

Sen may have played the raw, violent, fearless badminton in his sophomore senior season, and when confronted with the compulsive retriever, Kenta Nishimoto in round 2, displayed mental strength and ambition that could rattle an opponent. His campaign has been filled with some eye-catching retrievals: he dives to the left, jumps up, chases the shuttle to the far right front flanks the next moment, then jumps desperately out onto the forecourt and crawls back diagonally, all during one marathon rally. He has made all this breath-taking, some of his monstrous winners coming from highly unbalanced positions.

The big names will torment him with clever tricks when they return. But one does not suspect too long if he keeps slamming cross returns against them and is constantly in their face, relentlessly – if fitness allows. At any rate, a World Cup medal in his pocket marks him for his iron-clad heart, which produces breathless badminton.

Facing him among the established names in what will be a delicious semifinal is Kidambi Srikanth. India’s arguably the most stylish player, the 28-year-old Native American, has been a story of lost qualifications. A host of early rounds lost at world championships, a completely missed Olympics 2020, the regret of not finishing with a knockout blow when he had Lin Dan on the mat in Rio: all that grief can be put aside as he shoots after it great here.

He is formerly world No. 1, but one who had no major medals to show. He benefited greatly from all the retreats in Huelva, but he also carved out the games of two tricky Chinese in consecutive games, and unfolded all the tricks he has quietly internalized in all these years.

Successful Indian World medalists have a bit of a history of having the Chinese bosses at the annual major – from Padukone to Saina to Sindhu. Now add Srikanth and Lakshya to the list, though Srikanth’s movement was breathtaking as he separated Li Shifeng and Lu Guang Zu. Srikanth is the original intimidator on the net. His smash is just a set-up, the real killing is when his hand falls down like an ax splitting a tree trunk leaving the net. The battle of the space shuttle is almost India’s biggest cultural change in sports.

India has usually followed the Chinese noble tradition of not having coaches to sit for matches when both players are from the same country, to avoid plotting against each other. It remains to be seen whether Coach Park for Srikanth and father coach DK Sen from Padukone Academy will abide by the protocol in a high-stakes World Cup semi-final. But a Srikanth-Lakshya faceoff is a battle of the times, with two attacking and hugely talented and determined players trying each other out.

In any case, India’s men’s singles will have finally emerged from the shadows Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhupioneering companies. They have played serious catch-up with P Kashyap and Srikanth, who have previously struggled to break jinx. When Sai Praneeth finally did it in 2019, it did not appeal to sponsors. A bit of luck with draws now puts Srikanth and Lakshya in the spotlight, with a focus on the net, where the two revel in chopping at the space shuttle, leaving the cozy days to charm the bird.

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