At the London Olympics of 2012, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian badminton player to win a bronze. Besides, Parupalli Kashyap became the first Indian male to reach the quarterfinals of the same event.
As Rio beckons, these two performances provide hope to the present crop of Indian badminton players, one of whom is Kidambi Srikanth. Srikanth is the only male player who will be representing India in badminton singles at this year’s event.
Srikanth was born into a farming family in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh on February 7, 1993.
The 23-year-old shuttler initially started out as a doubles player like his elder brother Nanda Gopal. But, later he restricted himself to singles on the advice of Pullela Gopichand under whom he has been training at Hyderabad since 2009.
In 2011, he came into the spotlight by winning the singles and doubles at the All India Junior International Badminton Championship. He then went on to win silver and bronze in mixed doubles and men’s doubles respectively at the Commonwealth Youth Games the same year.
His first notable success came in 2012 when Srikanth edged past then Junior World Champion Zulfadli Zulkiffli to win the Maldives International Challenge. Thereafter in 2013, he became the National champion getting the better of P Kashyap in the final.
In 2014, he became the first and only Indian male player to win a Super Series Premier event after upsetting two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan at the China Open. He added the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold and India Open Super Series titles to his kitty in 2015.
A self-confessed fan of cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, he was floored by the master’s comment that he would soon ascend the top of the world rankings.
“I didn’t get much time to talk to him but those 5-7 minutes that I spent with him, he told me that I will definitely become the World No. 1 someday, and it was a big thing coming from Tendulkar,” Srikanth told PTI last August during an interview.
Appearing cautiously optimistic about his chances, he told Sportskeeda, “Pressure can affect the best of players, I aim to prepare well and give it my best shot. I believe that we have a good chance to win something for Team India.”
(India's Olympic Hope is a series of profiles of south India's Olympic participants of Rio 2016)