The Srikanth smash, it is said, is second only to Viktor Axelsen’s on the current circuit. And that we suspect might be based solely on the consistency metric. Viktor gets many more winners from accuracy, Srikanth can puddle up as many errors playing for the lines and sully what’s a fairly sensational stroke to watch. It’s a hit that draws the gush of seen-it-all experts and first-time watchers alike – when it lands within the confines.
The Srikanth smash is the YouTube compilation that you show to a badminton ignoramus to lead him on the path of shuttle education. It’s a stand-alone and it’s an outstanding draw for crowds, though a video or broadcast camera can barely capture the real thing. It’s best watched Live at a stadium.
So they queue up patiently to get his autograph – girls and boys, parents in tow, long after the match is over at Pune’s Balewadi stadium. Correction: they queue up way after the semifinal match is lost. In straight sets, no less, to Mithun Manjunath. A single file of children and parents, clutching onto autograph books, waiting silently for a scribble promised to them after Srikanth’s done limbering down.
Biggest headliner at the senior Nationals this last week, the semifinal loss meant Srikanth’s smashes were mere punctuation marks in the tournament story. But rarely have mere punctuating full-stops, with no contextual significance to the scoreline, brought such stunned delirium to a young, impressionable crowd.
Dipankar Bhattacharjee, the man who is said to have brought the jump smash to Indian shores, is watching from the sidelines. “Whenever Manjunath was lifting, Srikanth finished it. I’ll call it a killer jump smash,” he anoints the day’s variation. Mithun finally strangles his senior’s hopes of a title 10 years after his last one in 2013, by cannily denying him elevation. But for that brief span in the first half of the opening set, there is brilliantly cavalier carnage of the shuttle.
It’s a silhouette relief that can easily become as iconic as the NBA logo, for badminton. Maybe because Indian crowds don’t get to watch them LIVE enough and TV can’t do justice to the sport, but those at the stadium are in awe of the power and steepness and the accompanying thwack of the Srikanth smash that offers the unique acoustic.
We’ll label it the fadeaway jump smash.
For starters, Srikanth makes time in reaching under it fast enough. Then he leaps diagonally backwards – one-leggedly. So his body momentum is moving back, but the smash is surging forward. It’s a wonder when he’s defying physics, that Srikanth draws the power from his leg strength, gets his torso and shoulder to swing hard and like a spring gives himself the height to strike. Whack. Think Dirk Nowitzki’s sweet-shooting fadeaways. Or Kobe even.
It’s vintage 2017, when Srikanth was racking up those four titles. Kenta Nishimoto knew not what hit him at French Open then, so these are good omens for a Paris encore.
Back to the smash. It’s the timing of the contact, jumping at the right time, upto the desired height. It’s also court-smarts, knowing where his opponent is scurrying to, where the gaps on the carpet are, and it’s court-speed.
Sagar Chopda is coaching Mithun Manjunath in the match, and the duo effectively work out a way to deny Srikanth any short length thereafter. But when the smashes are flowing, there’s little anyone can do.
Mithun Manjunath is no mug at defending. He’s frankly quite good, but when an attacking Srikanth gets going, you keep a straight face and don’t break into an applause at the overhead smash if you are the opponent’s coach. So Chopda nods and sits tight.
But even he can’t help praising, once the winning business is done – by throttling the shuttle down. “It’s the angle,” he reckons. “It’s not even a hard smash. There are harder hitters.” He just goes quickly to the shuttle, jumps and bang, the feathers forget the existence of any parabola. Mithun then keeps the shuttle long, and everyone goes off making it all about the senior Nationals. But for those 16-18 minutes, Srikanth imprints his fadeaway smash like a tattoo for life.
It’s not like his smash is the only talk of the town. Harsheel Dani makes a surprising dent into the draw, making the semis, and sets alight the corner courts with his backhand smash which many claim may be punched as hard as Prannoy’s. In one instance it literally knocks B Sai Praneeth off his feet, as he reels back from the impact and falls down. Then there’s the new-kid-on-the-block in Priyanshu Rajawat, who is fashioned into the next-Srikanth, and has many a stroke like the senior.
Yet, it is the Srikanth smash that leaves a lingering tale from this senior nationals. The perfect-Srikanth win of course, is when his follow-up at the net – the forward jump and scythe, get going. On this day, they don’t and he loses. But in a losing cause, the Srikanth smash burnishes itself on young minds. It’s what explains the crowds lingering on, and waiting for the autograph even when he’s taken out in semis.
Later Srikanth would go on to say he’s seeking an Indonesian travelling coach. His smash though has an Indonesian stamp on arrival. It’s why they adore him at the Istora in Jakarta. It’s been honed by the best in business – Sudhakar Reddy in his childhood, Pullela Gopichand who steered him away from half-responsibility laziness of doubles, and Mulyo Handoyo who 3D printed Taufik Hidayat’s very best strokes, and chiselled out Srikanth’s silhouette into smash-readiness.
The Srikanth smash is not just the zany dip – that steep sharp zing to it with which it lands. It’s the timing of the jump, the point of contact with the racquet and knowing the sweet spot on the strings. It’s badminton’s fadeaway. It’s victory-agnostic. It’s Tony Iommi’s pick on the opening chords when the Black Sabbath used to tour. Somehow, only a LIVE witnessing can do it justice. It kept Pune – notorious for its 1-4 pm siestas – wide awake into the semi finals.