Home > mint-lounge > business-of-life > Don’t write off Parupalli Kashyap

On 6 June, Parupalli Kashyap’s Twitter feed featured a single teary eyed emoticon. India’s No.2 badminton player, No.10 in world rankings, Kashyap had lost in the semi-final of the Indonesia Open Superseries. This, just a day after he beat the World No.1, China’s Chen Long, in the quarter-final, becoming the first Indian in 14 years to record a win against the top-ranked badminton player in the world. There was a sense of optimism among Kashyap’s supporters that is usually rare—if he can take Chen down, who can stop him from winning his first Superseries?

Japan’s Kento Momota, that’s who. And with that defeat went yet another chance for Kashyap to finally end his silverware drought. Six times he has made a Superseries semi-final in his career, and six times he has lost. Yet the 6 June defeat may have hurt the most. Kashyap says he may have come close to winning a Superseries before, “But not this close. Never this close".

The agony in the 28-year-old’s voice, who has returned to the top 10 of the world rankings after a gap of more than a year, is hard to miss. “This was a difficult loss. I haven’t been able to digest it yet," he says. “I’ve seen the recordings again. Of course, that’s not helping me get over it in any way."

Kashyap, unseeded in the tournament, played his best badminton in a very long time. He beat Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (world No.17), South Korea’s Son Wan Ho (world No.9), and Chen.

Against 20-year-old Momota, currently world No.5, Kashyap took all of 16 minutes to take the opening game 21-12, and then faded slowly just as the spunk in Momota’s game grew.

“Momota had actually given up because he knew I had played so well throughout the match. He was less tense, he could play freely," says Kashyap, while remembering the last few points of the match. “I was not in the zone. I needed that last push, and that’s where I failed."

For the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, it’s like the win against the world No.1 never happened: “I didn’t have any time to celebrate as such, I was more focused on the next day’s match," he recalls. “But see, in the end, you remember only the end, only the last match, right? And the result of the last match I played was a loss for me.

“I cried uncontrollably," Kashyap admits.

Kashyap has long been India’s best male badminton player, among the best in the world, but he is also the man who perpetually falters at the business end of tournaments. Injuries, and a hungry young Kidambi Srikanth snapping at his heels hasn’t exactly helped him either. The world woke up and took notice of Srikanth towards the end of last year when he beat five-time world champion Lin Dan in his own backyard to win his maiden Superseries title (the China Open). Since then, Srikanth, also a product of the Gopi Chand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad, has climbed up to third in the world rankings, and has added another Superseries title (2015 India Open).

As a senior who trains and travels with him, Kashyap still is a role model for the 22-year-old Srikanth. But once across the net, he’s like any other competitor: opponent, enemy. “It’s not a rivalry," Kashyap clarifies. “But I want him to lose, because I want to win. For me he is like Chen Long, Lin Dan, Momota..."

Kashyap is quick to remind you about their final at the India Open Grand Prix Gold at the start of the year. A sensational 23-21, 23-21 win in 52 minutes against top-seed Srikanth was followed by a kind of celebration that is rarely seen in Indian athletes. Kashyap took off his shirt and took a victory lap of the Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium in Lucknow. He later said, “Some people had forgotten me, but I am right here."

Despite the losses, Kashyap says he is improving. “I played my best badminton, and I am fitter," he says. “My opponents know they can’t tire me out with long rallies now. They have to strategize better for me, which means I have grown as a player."

Kashyap plans to skip the next couple of tournaments in the calendar and preserve his energy for the World Championships in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August. “I think I am one of those players meant to create history," he only half jokes. “When I reached the quarters at the Olympics, it was a first by an Indian male player. My Commonwealth Games gold last year was a first. And now I am the first Indian to beat a reigning world No.1 after 14 years. These are all milestones, right? So who knows?"

Suprita Das is a senior sports correspondent with NDTV.

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