By Dev S. Sukumar, IANS
Kuala Lumpur : A chance conversation with a Malaysian player helped Bangalore boy Anup Sridhar serve some of the biggest surprises at the Badminton World Championships here.
Anup had, during the Philippines Open in July, struck up a conversation with world number 20 Lee Tseun Seng, who commented on the lack of quality sparring partners at his Kuala Lumpur Racket Club.
Apart from Lee, the club had just three players of international standards – Ayub Sairul Omar, Ismail Saman and England’s Andrew Smith. Anup sensed an opportunity with the World Championships round the corner as he could do with some acclimatisation. Lee invited him over.
The 10-day stint helped 24-year-old Anup get used to the energy-sapping humidity of the Malaysian capital and the different styles of his sparring partners.
As the reigning Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat and then 2003 All-England winner Hafiz Hashim found out, this was a slightly different Indian from the one they had seen earlier.
Twice earlier Sridhar had faced Taufik and each time he was good enough to stretch the Indonesian, but not good enough to drive him to despair. On Wednesday, however, Taufik found it difficult to answer anything that the Indian came up with.
Both against Taufik and Hashim, Anup got into his rhythm early, keeping the shuttle high and deep and pinning his opponents to the baseline, denying the fast exchanges that players from Southeast Asia are so good at.
The Indian is a good attacking player himself and used his six-ft two-inch frame to good use with jump interceptions that had his much higher ranked opponents gasping for breath.
Sridhar has a pattern of losses in big games. He has rarely won sticky, long-drawn contests and is not known to fight it out once the momentum shifts.
At the Thomas Cup in Jaipur in 2006, he had four match points against 2004 Olympic silver medallist Shon Seung Mo of South Korea – who would have been his biggest victim. But the Indian had served high, defensively, and could only watch as Shon leapt up for the smash each time to clamber back and take the match.
This year has been a spectacular one for Sridhar – he reached the semi-finals of the German Open in March and the Asian Continental Championships in April, followed by a quarterfinal slot at the Thailand Open, a Grand Prix Gold event, in early July. And now a last eight berth in the World Championships.
But there have been inconsistencies as well, particularly at the Sudirman Cup in June, where he lost to France’s Erwin Kehlhoffner in the third rubber, a match he was expected to win.
But Sridhar is not the kind of person to make excuses.
He readily admitted he had let the team down. “I take responsibility for the team’s loss,” he had said. “He wasn’t such a good player, but I probably got nervous because we were 0-2 down and it was a team event.”
The current World Championships have seen a totally different Sridhar. He displayed his newly acquired steely resolve, a stubbornness that makes him India’s best international hope in the men’s singles since Pullela Gopichand.