When Kidambi Srikanth will step on to the court against Viktor Axelsen in the men’s singles final of the India Open Super 500 on Sunday, the home favourite will probably start as an underdog.

Srikanth has managed to turn things around in this tournament, reaching his first BWF Tour final in over a year. But such has been the domination of Axelsen in New Delhi this week is that he is yet to concede a game in the tournament so far.

The two have taken different routes to the summit clash. While Axelsen has been dominant, winning every game in style, Srikanth has been pushing himself to the brink. Out of his four matches, three went to three games and Srikanth narrowly escaped in the quarter-final and semi-final.

Axelsen, on the other hand, has been toying with his opponents with his pace and aggression. So much so that none of them have been able to force the 6’4” player out of his comfort zone or make him change his strategy.

That was until the semi-final against Parupalli Kashyap. Though only for a brief period, the 32-year-old Indian seemed to have found a way to break the Axelsen juggernaut. During the second game, the Dane looked like cruising to victory before the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist managed to turn things around for a brief while.

It was game of patience. Kashyap, who had lost the first game 11-21, implemented a strategy that worked well. Instead of forcing the play towards the net, the Indian kept throwing everything at Axelsen’s backhand and engaged the Dane in long rallies.

Kashyap finished the rallies with either a smash or a drop very close to the net as Axelsen was forced to run back-and-forth more often. But he realised Kashyap’s strategy and was quick to adapt.

The high play brought drift into play which Axelsen admitted he failed to control. “I didn’t control the drift in the second game that well. However I started to do that later and make better decisions.” the Dane added.

But in that brief period, Kashyap showed what Srikanth needs to do if he wants to win his second India Open title. It’s going to be a game of patience.

It is something Srikanth has been doing well in the tournament. In the quarter-final against B Sai Praneeth, he ensured that the shuttle stayed in play long enough to force his opponent to make mistakes and lose points. Despite losing the first game 21-23, he came back to win 21-11, 21-19 in the next two games.

Srikanth did that against Huang Yuxiang as well. In the semi-final which Srikanth won 16-21, 21-14, 21-19, both players engaged in longer rallies till Huang lost steam in the final game. In the last two games, like other matches, the Indian just tried to keep the shuttle in play and remain patient.

“In the end I think I was just playing safe and working hard for each points. I am happy to pull off the match,” he had said.

One point, one game at a time

Srikanth will be high on confidence as well after reaching his first final at a World Tour/Superseries event after a 17 months and 15 BWF tour events wait..

While he may not have had the perfect run in this tournament, Srikanth is certainly capable of better control over his game. The matches here have been error-prone but all that can be forgotten in the final.

Srikanth’s record in the finals of the erstwhile BWF Superseries (now BWF Super 500 and above) is near perfect. The second of those titles came in 2015 when he won the India Open defeating Axelsen.

Both players have improved leaps and bounds since then. Axelsen has won the same title in 2017 defeating Srikanth and enjoys a 4-3 head-to-head record against the Indian.

But with a partisan crowd at the KD Jadhav Indoor hall, he may have to work a bit harder to improve that record to 5-3. He, however, is just looking to enjoy the game.

“It’s going to be really nice playing Srikanth in India so I’m looking forward to it. I’m really pleased to be in the finals here and tomorrow is going to be a good one for sure,” he said.

Even for Srikanth, it is more about enjoying than thinking if he has found the form of 2017. “I try taking it game by game and win them. It is same in quarter-finals, semi-finals or finals. So I am going to enjoy playing the final.”