Swiss Open: It’s another Srikanth Kidambi rollercoaster as Indian veteran bows out in semifinals after a thriller | Badminton News

Srikanth Kidambi

There will be thrilling highs, there will be painfully excruciating lows. There will be a second where you feel why you ever got into this in the first place. But there will also be moments where you wouldn’t want it to end. When it is over, you will be glad to get out of it but also perhaps grateful for the experience of it all.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in Basel, Srikanth produced arguably three of his best back-to-back performances in recent times. Not since Thomas Cup in 2022 – where he went unbeaten in India’s historic triumph – has the former world No 1 put together such good performances on the trot. Three straight two-game wins, and against really good opponents too – Wang Tzu Wei (who had beaten Viktor Axelsen in Paris), Lee Zii Jia (Malaysian Srikanth solely for their brilliant inconsistencies, if you will) and Chia Hao Lee (who defeated Lakshya Sen).

On Saturday though, he couldn’t stretch that run. In a match that ebbed and flowed for 65 minutes, Srikanth lost 21-15, 9-21, 18-21 against world No 22 Lin Chun Yi at the semifinals of Swiss Open Super 300.

The defeat meant that Srikanth’s wait to return to a final on the World Tour now extends to 27 months – the World Championships final in December 2021 was the last time he made it all the way to Sunday.

Badminton Kidambi Srikanth has reached the semifinals of the Swiss Open. (File)

During any given match, Srikanth tends to evoke a spectrum of emotions for his fans. He possesses the skill-set that makes your jaw drop. But he’s also capable of sliding into a phase where the errors pile up. What is that like in his head? When the question was put to him after his first-round defeat at the India Open earlier this year, he let out a quick chuckle.

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“When that smash falls in, I get a point. When it goes out, I lose a point. But that’s how I have always played,” he had said then. “When I won tournaments, that is how I did it. I’m somebody who really likes to take on points, I don’t really play safe and the downside of it is unforced errors. I am working on cutting out those, it will make a big difference.”

It perfectly summed up the performance against the left-handed Chun Yi. When he opened up a 11-5 lead in the opening game, he was dancing around the court, dominating the net and landing his smashes either side of his opponent. His opponent did close the gap down after the interval but with a gorgeous crosscourt net shot, Srikanth closed out the opening game and punched his left fist in self-approval, as he had done almost after every single one of the 21 points he won.

In that instant, all felt right in the world of Srikanth. A tough albeit very winnable final against Chou Tien Chen was in sight, the chance to end a long wait for a title.

While Chun Yi opened up a 11-7 lead in the second game, it wasn’t as if Srikanth was playing badly. In the first half, the Chinese Taipei shuttler started taking Srikanth on at his own game, trying to dominate the net exchanges. He repeatedly drew Srikanth forward, forced either a short lift that set up a kill or drew out an error. But post the mid-game interval, Srikanth’s game fell off a cliff. The errors piled on, he lost a bunch of points in the span of a few whirlwind seconds, and yet didn’t really try to slow the pace down. Chun Yi won 12 out of the 14 points from 9-7.

Srikanth lost 21-15, 9-21, 18-21 against world No 22 Lin Chun Yi at the semifinals of Swiss Open Super 300. Srikanth lost 21-15, 9-21, 18-21 against world No 22 Lin Chun Yi at the semifinals of Swiss Open Super 300. (BAI)

When Srikanth went 2-6 down in the decider, it felt like the result was already being written. Suddenly, he found his lost rhythm, a run of four points to make it 6-6, each met with loud cheers from a late-night crowd at St Jakobshalle that was overwhelmingly on his side. From 8-8, it was blow-by-blow. 9-9, 10-10… all the way up to 16-16, Srikanth and Chun Yi were inseparable, engaged constantly in a tussle to see who could gain authority at the net.

In the end, the 24-year-old prevailed.

The dream of Paris is now over for him, but in Delhi, he had made it clear that he was not keen to qualify for the Olympic Games just by scraping through to make up the numbers. He has been to Rio 2016, where he was a genuine medal contender and came close. He has been through the heartbreak of trying hard and failing to qualify for Tokyo 2020. And so he insisted that he is just focussed on trying to win tournaments.

When Srikanth got together with Kashyap Parupalli, the former CWG gold medallist told him: ‘Why do you have to just try to be around the circuit? Let’s try and win tournaments.’ Kashyap, who has been watching Srikanth for years now, always thought he was one of the most talented shuttlers. “A brilliant guy, just naturally made for badminton, and very coachable,” he’d say.

It is why Kashyap believes that Srikanth still has a couple of years left in him at the very top, if he can get his fitness levels up to the elite level. After a mostly barren 2023, there have already been signs this year that he is getting to a better level.

Swiss Open was a reminder both that he could still stitch together these good results, but the frustrating errors can sneak in at any time. But if Srikanth’s sole focus is to try and win tournaments rather than just turn up, there were more good things to take away from Basel than bad.

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