A high achiever and a humble soul is the best way to describe the most promising male badminton star of India, Kidambi Srikanth. All of 25, the young lad from Hyderabad had an eventful year as he climbed to number one ranking for the first time in his life. A protege of former badminton player and chief national coach, Pullela Gopichand, Srikanth’s brand has skyrocketed in the sporting world, but the man remains grounded.
The shuttler lives in a gated community in the suburbs of Hyderabad, which is closer to his second home, the SAI Gopichand Academy in Gachibowli. For the past nine years, Srikanth has been training religiously under Gopichand’s watchful eyes.
Since I have a lot of time at the airports, I shop. There were times when I found some good clothes in the outlets inside the airport. I usually do not buy very fancy stuff and go for something simple.
So, how does the Padma Shri award winner celebrate every time he scoops up a title? “I do not get time to celebrate. We are constantly travelling or preparing for the next tournament. I also do not believe in cutting cakes or partying,” said Srikanth.
With hectic schedules and frequent flying, he has made airports his shopping stops. “Since I have a lot of time at the airports, I shop. There were times when I found some good clothes in the outlets inside the airport. I usually do not buy very fancy stuff and go for something simple.”
He talks about his most prized possession which he picked up recently. “My Bose noise-cancellation headphones are the best. I am not too much into gadgets. I only buy if I require them. The headphones work effectively in reducing outside noise and help me relax. I carry it whenever I travel,” said the sportsman who has a signature style of kissing his racquet before entering the court.
When in Hyderabad, Srikanth loves driving his car around. Presently, he owns a Volvo S60 which he drives to attend professional or personal events. “I still remember the first vehicle I had. It was a Hero Honda Glamour bike and I used to ride it often. I am not crazy about cars or bikes, but believe that they add to a comfortable life.”
By his own admission, Srikanth sometimes misses the regular life of a youngster. But, he has a technique he follows whenever he feels low. “A lot of negative thoughts will come if we allow our mind to think. Whenever I am free, I either sleep or keep myself busy so as to not think much. That helps.”
Even when I go abroad, I prefer sleeping in my hotel room rather than going for sightseeing. When I am at home and not practicing, I make it a point to catch up on sleep as much as I can.
His personal life may not be very vibrant but he squeezes in time to catch up with friends. “Once or twice a month, I call up my friends and talk to them. Sometimes we go to the movies. I try not to be in the public glare much as I am not very comfortable with the attention I have been getting. But, I also know that not everyone can be in my place,” he said.
Srikanth gets his dose of Telugu movies regularly, but confesses that he is not a typical fan of any star. “I like all good movies,” he adds, “Recently, I watched Mahesh Babu’s Bharat Ane Nenu and I really liked it. Whenever I get time, I watch movies.”
Srikanth also receives best wishes and congratulatory messages from bigwigs of the Telugu film industry on social media. “No. I am not interested in acting,” he laughs, “I just happened to meet some film personalities at felicitation functions and social events. They wish me sometimes.”
Like many Indian athletes, Srikanth has a social-media presence with a large number of followers. But he does not tweet regularly or interact with his fans. “I make an announcement or share some important message only when I get time. I am still learning to be active.”
When it comes to food, Srikanth is shy of experimenting. He likes home-cooked or simple food. Apart from badminton, he is passionate about sleeping. “Even when I go abroad, I prefer sleeping in my hotel room rather than going for sightseeing. When I am at home and not practicing, I make it a point to catch up on sleep as much as I can.”
In his free time, he loves reading up news, watching comedy shows or following cricket and tennis. “Dhoni is my favourite cricketer.”
Despite suffering injuries in his two ankles, Srikanth bounced back stronger. With his eyes set on future tournaments, including Olympics, he is training rigorously. Adapting to the attacking style of play also means some sacrifice. To be more fit, he has given up on sugar and junk food.
Once or twice a month, I call up my friends and talk to them. Sometimes we go to the movies. I try not to be in the public glare much as I am not very comfortable with the attention I have been getting. But, I also know that not everyone can be in my place
We ask the soft-spoken player if there were instances when he took a decision defying the coach during a game? “It happens many times. I go by my own decision instead of the coach, depending on the situation. I do what I feel is necessary at that moment. In the end, if I win the match, then I don’t have any regrets.”
On many occasions, players travel with their family members during tournaments. However, that is not the case with Srikanth. “They never travel with me. It is mostly to do with food as they are strict vegetarians and they find it really tough to find the food of their choice outside the country.”
For someone who has reached the top spot, what next? “I think I have ten more years of sport left in me. I will try to win as many matches as I can and make the country proud.”
He has a chance to make his country proud off the court too as the Andhra Pradesh government has appointed him as deputy collector. The shuttler wants to make a mark even in that area, but plans to take it slow as he has to complete a mandatory 72-week training programme.
Wins or losses don’t affect me as they are part of the game. I just have to go home satisfied that I gave my best.
For now, it is back to the court for Srikanth with his favourite mantra, “Wins or losses don’t affect me as they are part of the game. I just have to go home satisfied that I gave my best.”