Legend­killer Srikanth wins Australian Open

NEW HIGH Hyderabad shuttler beats Olympic champion Chen Long for first time in six meetings to lift Superseries title

I don’t know what the future holds for me but so far this is the best I have played. I would like to thank my coaches and physios. Practicing with Mulyo, his training techniques have made a real difference. KIDAMBI SRIKANTH

NEWDELHI: It had been a long wait but Kidambi Srikanth has managed to overcome Chen Long at last since their first meeting in 2014. The Indian shuttler defeated the World and Olympic champion from China, for the first time in six meetings, in the men’s singles final to lift the $750,000 Australian Open Superseries crown in Sydney on Sunday.

Srikanth came out with a brilliant performance to outclass the former World No 1 22-20, 21-16 at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre to claim his second successive and overall fourth Superseries crown.

The 24-year-old had already become the first player since Malaysian great Lee Chong Wei in 2015 to reach a hat-trick of Superseries finals. Before the title in Australia, the Gunturborn had also reached the finals in Singapore, which he lost to compatriot B Sai Praneeth in April, and the Indonesia Open final last Sunday, which turned out to be his first Superseries title this year.

But the manner in which Srikanth won on Sunday was stunning. The Indian had managed to win only one game in five previous face-offs against the two-time World champion opponent.

But it was quite evident who the better player was in Australian, although the Chinese gave a tough fight. It must not be forgotten that a player of Chen Long’s calibre has not won a single Superseries event in 2017. Hence, no one would be hungrier than the 28-year-old Chinese.

But that did not bother Srikanth. He matched each step taken by Chen in the final. The court coverage was fantastic as both shuttlers made each other run all around the court.

Chen’s height and regular on-court suave did not matter for Srikanth as some mesmerising cross-court smashes helped him take an 11-9 lead at the first break of the match.

Neither player let the other run away. While former World No1 Chen used some cross-court dips to perfection, Srikanth was impeccable when it came to down-the-line smashes.

Despite the stiff competition, Srikanth eventually managed a game-point at 20-19. But a defensive lapse helped Chen level at 20-all.

Srikanth again had match point a few seconds later. This time he did not waste the opportunity and closed the game.

Srikanth had managed to complete the first task i.e. to hold his nerve and take the lead in only 23 minutes. He had won only his second-ever game against the reigning Olympic champion. The Hyderabadi was all calm and poise in the second game. A couple of errors and line judgement calls from Chen Long made Srikanth take a 6-2 lead, though the world No 6 Chinese levelled the game at 9-9.

However, Srikanth found legs thereon and never lost the lead. It was only a formality towards the end as Chen had realised that it was not his day. And after 46 minutes, Srikanth became only the second Indian to win the Australian Open after Saina Nehwal, who was victorious in 2014 and 2016.

Badminton Association of India (BAI) president Himanta Biswa Sarma announced a cash reward of R5 lakh for Srikanth.

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