Kidambi Srikanth loses to Loh Kean Yew in the world badminton final

ElephantNewsNetwork5个月前badminton252
Kidambi Srikanth loses to Loh Kean Yew in the world badminton final

Coming into the world badminton championships, Kidambi Srikanth had modest targets. He was just thinking of winning the first round, he said a few days ago, only looking as far ahead as the next match from thereon.

That mindset saw Srikanth go all the way to the last chapter. He had one history page written as the first Indian male player in the final, with a shot at adding another as the first Indian male world champion. Massive for a former world No. 1 who hadn’t reached a final since 2019 with his last title having come two years prior to that.

The Indian though ran into a smiling and sprightly Singaporean eager to script a little history of his own. The fast-rising Loh Kean Yew was simply too good, and a touch too quick, beating Srikanth 21-15, 22-20 in the men’s singles final of the World Championships in Huelva, Spain, on Sunday, becoming the first man from Singapore to win the title.

Indian badminton too witnessed a first at this prestigious event with Srikanth and Lakshya Sen—he won bronze on debut after losing to Srikanth in the semis—sharing space on the podium as medallists from the country at the same world championships.

Srikanth, 28, entered the final as the higher-ranked player—world No. 14 to Yew’s 22—with more experience and a 1-0 head-to-head record. But the unseeded 24-year-old was the form player; he had taken down world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen in the first round and 2019 world silver medallist Anders Antonsen in the semi-finals, having won the Hylo Open and ended runner-up at the Indonesia Masters last month.

He began the contest as one, taking a 3-1 lead before Srikanth reeled off eight straight points by finding the angles and executing clever drop shots to leave the nervous Singaporean scrambling. Srikanth headed into the break 11-7 ahead. But as Loh’s nerves settled, he soared. The point at 12-12 showcased his USP: diving full length to make a return in the middle of the court, Loh sprang to his feet from being off-balance in the blink of an eye and finished the rally with a winner at the net. Loh was bossing the net play with deft touches and swift movements while inducing errors from Srikanth, who could muster only four points after the break.

Srikanth tweaked his tactics in the second game, playing a bit farther from the back of the court, forcing Loh to play more defensively. Srikanth went ahead 9-6, but four consecutive errors followed by a brilliant crosscourt smash from Loh undid the work with Srikanth again playing catch up at the break.

He did catch up alright, and after winning a 49-shot rally by manufacturing the most acute angle off a backhand crosscourt net shot, Srikanth sneaked ahead 16-14. But the pattern of dishing out an unforced error after a quality point came back to bite the Indian as the scoreline turned 18-20. Srikanth saved two championship points, but another error at 20-20 handed a third to Loh and was gleefully accepted.

Srikanth was content with his performance in a draw that saw three of the top five seeds tumble in the first round. “At such a big event, to be in the final and get the opportunity at the world championships to win silver, (it’s) something that I worked really for,” he said in the BWF mixed zone. “I’ll just try and continue to work hard, it’s a process.”

It’s a process to climb the ladder again, having seen the dizzy heights of the top but also experienced the fall. Four years ago, Srikanth was on a dazzling run, winning four BWF titles. Four months into the 2018 season, he was world No. 1 and a silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games, and wore the tag of medal hope for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But a spate of injuries, from knee to ankle to other niggles, derailed Srikanth’s surge, and form dipped. The 2019 season saw him falter at the quarter-final stage six times, reaching the semi-finals and final just once each. The pandemic-hit 2020 saw him reach a lone quarter-final. Srikanth could not find a spot at the postponed Tokyo Games after slipping in the Race to Tokyo rankings.

However, the second half of 2021 kick-started a revival with back-to-back semi-finals on the tour. The world championships final will give him a spring in his steps marching into the next season.

Sen too will be elated. The 20-year-old has also had a fruitful latter half of 2021. Starting with the Denmark Masters in August, Sen played eight tournaments before the worlds, making one final, two semi-finals and another quarter-final, apart from an unexpected entry into the BWF World Tour Finals. The world championships medal has proved that the youngster not only belongs to the top league but can fight with aplomb there.

“It’s brilliant for Indian badminton to have two men’s singles medallists,” former national chief coach Vimal Kumar said. “It is good to see him play great badminton again. It’s come after a long time—more than three years. He is getting his flow back; in between for a brief period, he was playing a bit defensively. When he is playing fluently, it is great to watch. There is still room for improvement in his fitness and endurance levels, which I felt was decisive in the final.”

It was a proud moment for Kumar that Lakshya Sen, trainee at his Prakash Padukone academy in Bengaluru, too won a medal.

“This performance shows that men’s singles is in a good place in India. The thing was that the younger lot was never supported. Lakshya doing well will have an impact, and will boost the morale and confidence of the other youngsters. The likes of Srikanth and HS Prannoy coming back is a good sign, Sameer Verma can still do a lot better. So a satisfying campaign overall.”

There they were on the podium together—one taking giant strides in rediscovering his old touch and the other reaching new highs—capping off a memorable world championships for India.

标签: OpenHylo

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