It’s been a memorable few months for Indian badminton. From the historic Thomas Cup triumph to the medals at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships (2021 & 2022) – shuttlers from the country have made their mark consistently. And through it all, Srikanth Kidambi has featured prominently.

The 29-year-old finished the 2021 season with a historic silver medal at the World Championships, the first Indian man to reach the final. Earlier in 2022, he won all six of his matches at the Thomas Cup as India became team world champions. He then won silver in the team event and bronze in the individual event at CWG 2022. And even though he couldn’t go beyond the round of 32 at the BWF World Championships in 2022, he remains the second-highest ranked men’s singles player from India, behind Lakshya Sen, at No 12.

In a media interaction organised by GoSports Foundation last week in Mumbai, Srikanth shared his views on a range of topics – from preparing for a challenging period in the next year to the cramped BWF calendar.

Important year ahead

On a break at the moment due to stiffness in his back, Srikanth is likely to make a comeback at the Denmark Open next month. The priority for him is to get back to peak form and fitness over the next seven months before the Olympic qualification begins.

“The next 12 months will be very important, as important as the Olympics because for us it’s not about a single tournament but maintaining our ranking. So it’s about playing well, even if that means I play less tournaments,” said Srikanth.

Men’s badminton has taken big strides over the past year with the likes of Srikanth, Lakshya, HS Prannoy and Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy performing consistently. It’s only natural then that the expectations of an Olympic medal for them have increased. India have won just three Olympic medals in badminton, with PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal leading the way, but Srikanth believes that could change in Paris.

“I came very close to winning a medal in 2016. It’s always a possibility, you just have to be at your best. We definitely have a chance, not just in singles but in men’s doubles as well. It’s just about being consistent and at your best when the tournament starts. If we can do that, I definitely think we’ll have a chance,” said Srikanth.

“Lakshya is young and he is learning quickly, if he keeps getting better it’s a good sign. Even Satwik-Chirag are very young and have kept improving with every match and tournament. It’s always good to be around people who are winning, subconsciously you end up taking a lot from them. Their victories definitely inspire everyone in the team to do well.”

Workload mangement

Naturally, the chock-a-block schedule often leads to top players skipping domestic tournaments, even the nationals. Srikanth believes things could improve if the national and world federations work on the calendar together.

“What happens is that the international calendar is in such a way that you hardly get any gap. So if the Asian Games were being held now, we would have already left for it and and by the time we would come back, it would have been time for the tournaments in Denmark and France. That is the kind of calendar we have at the moment and it is the same even for next year,” said Srikanth.

Srikanth called for better coordination in the national events and the international events so that the athletes can play in front of home fans too.

“Also, because of my ranking, I have to play all these Super 1000 and 750 events – they are compulsory tournaments for the top players and we can’t skip them. Especially, you can’t skip them and play some other tournaments. We should get to train for the main nationals as another important tournament. Because now what happens is that you play two-three big international tournaments and come back and directly play the main nationals. The main nationals is a very big and important tournament, you have to train for at least a week or two before playing it.”

Managing their schedule is indeed going to be one of the big challenges for players over the next year. With two major events held this year – the Thomas Cup and CWG – apart from the annual World Championships, the BWF calendar has been incredibly tight with one tournament after another. And it doesn’t seem things are going to get better for players in the coming months.

The postponed Asian Games next year are likely to be held around the same time as the Nationals, while the major BWF tournaments will gain extra significance due to ranking points at stake for Olympic qualification.

Srikanth believes the only option for players is to prioritise which tournaments to play, with an eye on the rankings. And that, of course, isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.

“I personally think that things were much better pre-Covid. The maximum we would have were three tournaments back-to-back and that too would happen probably just once in the year. It would usually be just two tournaments back-to-back followed by two weeks of rest. But now I saw next year’s calendar and was really shocked to see six-seven tournaments back-to-back, that too twice in the year,” said Srikanth.

“So it is very tough, physically it is very challenging. You definitely have to pick and choose. Also, it being the Olympic qualification period, you can’t really skip too many tournaments. We’re put in a situation where we can’t really skip tournaments and neither can we play tournaments at our best.”

Srikanth, who missed out on qualification for the Tokyo Olympics as he struggled to get enough points in the lead-up to the Games, must know all too well about the importance of managing his schedule. And to return to the Olympics after an eight-year gap, he’d have to not just be at his best but also smartest.