Kidambi Srikanth becomes the first Indian men’s singles player to reach the finals of the World Cup


Look inside, they say, to find the burning embers of ambition. Kidambi Srikanth had been searching for the last few years and did not even find dying flicker as his career ended with his once promising course. On Saturday, the act of looking inward took on a bigger dimension as Srikanth found the fiery battle staring him in the face with cool non-glittering Lakshya Sen eyes. His younger compatriot pulled the winner in him with chisel blows and hammer nets before Srikanth won 17-2, 21-14, 21-18 to become the first Native American to make the World Cup final.

There was a roar at the end, an excellent smile with raised arms and a warm hug on the net, as the best person to celebrate this groundbreaking journey with could be none other than the man from the other side of the court – an Indian. , but more importantly, a fellow warrior on the badminton court. A sincere, albeit just as sweaty shoulder, to rest his head on.

Srikanth searched inside him to reach the edge of his game, where he had to dig his heels, get dirt under his nails, rub teeth, hold his head in his hands and play the undisturbed smash – pure killing, not a set -up to a pressure end to remove its opponent.

There was no pretense of a cold head, no false non-chalance. Srikanth left it all out there and played an authentic bar game, all his shine of strokes shining but no hiding on the warts and all.

Rope of obvious nervousness had led Kidambi Srikanth into a body tie as he failed to express himself in the opening set. As the senior, more experienced shuttler, a former world No. 1 to start, was pressured not to lose on him. The older Native American looked flapping, nervous and prone to mistakes. There were actually 9 unforced errors in the opening. And no progressive discovery of perfection either – he kept spraying the smash far and wide.

Srikanth lacked sharpness as he went after the lines. He has been bad at precision for a long time now – whether the sublime perfection can be traced back to the 2017 French Open, his last title or the 2019 India Open, his last final is hard to say. But what was different about the semi-final at Huelva was that Srikanth backed himself, his depth and breadth of talent, the sheer class of his stroke play as he tweezed winners from Sen’s octopus like all-encompassing tentacles.

Srikanth was forced to play out of his comfort zone with lightning attacks, pulled into a scrap, and was filled with errors. His shot of confidence is the grip of the net. It remained warm. Instead, the windy smack came from the midfield, the steep down to end all debates.

Sen is far from a mug in defense and he picked up a daring number of returns and sent them back. Honestly, that was enough to expose Srikanth. As the space shuttle kept coming back from the center, he followed the lines and struck it up – long, wide, gasping, head in hands, grimacing face, broken man squatting.

But then he would get up again and start all over again. Srikanth has too much quality to be overpowered by senator. He has too much quality to also be beaten by anyone internationally, except that he gets into such mental knots that the ingenious game never gets a peek in when the pressure piles up. In Huelva, in the hometown of Carolina Marin, the audience would warm up to the two Indians, even as they leaned toward Srikanth, whose game and its lilac can automatically fascinate.

On Saturday, he struggled. Only to the next point. There were long rallies he lost. But there was always a fresh idea to try. Sen was tiring, but so was he. Two magnificent smashes down the line – the unrestricted hits marked all these puddles of pressure that he splashed in. When he fell back 8-11 in the opening, he let things slide in the opening for 21-17 sets for Sen.

Goes completely out

He would start the second with aggression and anger. There was a jaw drop behind the backhand backhand, and Sen matched him save-for-save. He can go to sleep through his online game – by the way, he does too – and it was to be trusted, but life was on the edge in the backcourt. 4-8 down, he would equalize to 9-9 and spend set 2 on getting Sen to make more mistakes than claiming his own winners, and eventually cashed in the second to force a decision.

In the third, Sen was visibly tired, and Srikanth put turns on his smashes, a lot of shoulder on steeplings. At 7-9, Sen played a casual flick – a blind slash that showed the difference between fearless youth and pressured reputation. Srikanth would get past it all, mumbling when he failed things, and holding his head, maintaining his instinct to blindly go blazing into doom.

At 10-13 in the decision, however, Srikanth had had enough. He would shine the sword out and go to attack with all weapons, rain down smashes, many crosses, one straight down to trample the foot down. In the end, Lakshya Sen did not have the growling hunger in her stomach to deny Srikanth. A hug sealed the finalist’s march into a major war.

There were no coaches who adhered to the tradition and allowed the two Indians to think for themselves. Coaches were not missed either, two men in a thriller was enough. The two belong to different academies in Hyderabad and Bangalore, often perceived as bitter rivals. But India’s men’s singles have always been a casual bunch, united by their love of the sport and soldiers in their fight to create a niche while being overshadowed by women’s singles. Badminton, and not bad blood, should dominate this showdown.

Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu has set the highest standards of polite combat across the course, and Indian badminton has ensured that deeper gaps, higher horror, more medals from proving a point. Here it turned into a place in the final, and two opponents who did not need edgy hostilities to drive them on. An unprecedented place in the final of the World Championships was enough.

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