It was a hard slog in slow conditions and Kidambi Srikanth drove himself to an impressive win over rising star Li Shi Feng to make the third round of the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2021.
It was a good morning session for India, with Lakshya Sen, Pusarla V. Sindhu, and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty too making the Round of 16.
Kidambi had had an off-off relationship with form over the last few years and was understandably reluctant to read too much into his performance today, although he did concede that he was finding his touch. Given that the draw has been blown open with the upsets of Viktor Axelsen and Kunlavut Vitidsarn, and the absence of Kento Momota and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, Kidambi would have to be reckoned as one of the dark horses, but the Indian has endured too many swings in fortunes in recent times to afford himself thoughts of going far in the draw.
“I’m just very happy to win that match,” Kidambi said, after outplaying the young Chinese 15-21 21-18 21-17 in 69 minutes. “I think he played exceptionally well, he was very consistent throughout… I just want to do well especially in these long matches, I really want to win because it gives me a lot of confidence.”
For a player who has won several Superseries and been among the elite for a few years now, Kidambi has yet to win a medal at the World Championships. Huelva holds promise, as he has found patches of good form in recent weeks. At the YONEX French Open he went down in a tremendous contest to Kento Momota, 21-19 in the third of a 79-minute encounter, before making the semifinals of the HYLO Open and the DAIHATSU Indonesia Masters.
“I always had that motivation coming into any big event, but I really couldn’t do well at the World Championships as much as I’d want to. But again, this year is a new year, it’s a fresh tournament, fresh conditions, it’s about going there and doing your best.
“After 2017 and half of 2018 I was playing well, but then few injuries here and there, but I was just pushing really hard. I’m just happy to find my form again. I’m on that road to a good future.”
Does he sense that the winning touch is returning?
“If you look at the kind of matches I’ve played in the last three months, I’m kind of playing better, I can see it. On court I can see I’m getting better. But it’s a process and I’m just in the process of getting better. I don’t want to stop here; I’d say I’m at 15-20 per cent, so I’d want to get to 100 per cent.
“I’d like to put myself at 15-20 per cent because it will give me a bigger scope of improvement. I want to be more cautious and give myself a bigger target.”
Highlights of Day 3
♦Olympic champions Lee Yang/Wang Chi-Lin had an early setback but recovered to beat Dutch duo Ruben Jille/Ties Van Der Lecq 18-21 21-7 21-11.
♦Tenth seed Michelle Li, on her way back from Achilles injury, was clinical in a 21-19 21-18 finish over Denmark’s Julie Dawall Jakobsen.
♦Among the few seeds to fall was fourth seed Chou Tien Chen, beaten 14-21 21-15 21-15 by China’s Lu Guang Zu.
♦Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour got the better of the in-form Yeo Jia Min in a fast-paced encounter, 21-15 8-21 21-15.