October 17, 2020 12:46:39 am
The Denmark Open is beautifully lacking in any context whatsoever — just the way Kidambi Srikanth would’ve wanted this return to be. Neither an Olympic spot at stake for the future here, nor the painful piling on of early exits from one week to next, to scar his most recent past. Twice in their quarterfinal, Chou Tien Chen roared a guttural cry right after a stiff rally where he was run ragged, validating the strong challenge he was posed by the Indian in imperious form when on song.
Srikanth lost 22-20, 13-21, 16-21 in 62 minutes of the best badminton he has played in recent times. Well rested, with not a hint of pressure, moving well and confidently backing his attack, Srikanth offered a glimpse of what he could potentially play in the future, rather than turning back some elusive clock to go looking to mimic his dream season of 2017. So while this will still count as a sub-par exit for the former World No 1 against the current World No 2, there was enough in his game to get spectators to tune in when he plays him next time.
The loss was down to a bunch of unforced errors that compounded the Guntur man’s inability to come back after trailing in the middle set and the decider. But in all the five sets (2 each in first two rounds & the opener here) he won over the last three days, the 27-year-old displayed a champion’s capability to quickly switch gears at midgame, and summon his class in the crucial finish points.
The net is considered Srikanth’s stomping ground — a litmus to check on how confident he’s feeling on the day. But it will always be Srikanth’s attack from the midcourt or back that carries the venom enough to finish the kill.
On Friday, he was gliding around moving well for added measure. At 7-6 in the first, he hopped to the forecourt sending off a forehand at the net, which Chou slapped to the back. Running backwards and forced to leave his patch, Srikanth would flick the shuttle far back like a passing shot, unsettling Chou.
The Taipese 30-year-old’s trap was to draw errors from Srikanth’s backhand at the net — messing with his territorial dominance, drilling holes in his strength. But there was little for Chou to do when Srikanth let his stick smashes do the talking. Or when he attacked the body to pin Chou back and then with no perceptible change sent a smash along the other flank moving from 19-20 to winning next three points to claim the set, 22-20.
Chou held the upper hand in the longer rallies though, and physio Kiran Challangundla had said earlier that Srikanth was operating only at 80 per cent physically. But rattled by how he had let slip the opener from 20-19, he would spray his returns wide. What really riled him up was 7-8 in the second set — where Srikanth braking the pace played a series of slow – soft – slow – soft strokes and then suddenly snapped out of the lullaby speed for a blitz kill.
After that every long rally that Chou eked out, he would pump his fist, gnash his teeth and roar his anger out. Srikanth erring in a bunch of returns would allow Chou to level back.
While Chou broke away at 14-8 in the decider, after being made to work hard, he could never shake off the fear that Srikanth had it in him to pierce his best game with his own attack. What saved him was Srikanth’s excessive reliance on the same stroke at the net which Chou read rapidly and could counter with his furious taps.
Coach Gopichand, while happy with Srikanth’s speed, movement and attack, said, the shot selection could improve. “I thought, even when he had the winning shot, he was maybe a bit predictable. The finishes at the net especially were predictable. That’s something he could probably work on,” he said.
The second set where Srikanth took his foot off the pedal was the turning point. “He could’ve put pressure then. A series of errors took the pressure off Chou in the second game. Physically, Srikanth needs to be a bit better off to beat the No 1, 2, 3 guys. But overall happy with his progress,” he said.
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