He is swiftly emerging from the shadow of his illustrious colleagues Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. And given his current form, it seems that Kidambi Srikanth, 24, will become the first Indian male to do what India’s female shuttlers have already done-rise to the top by beating the world’s best,He is swiftly emerging from the shadow of his illustrious colleagues Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. And given his current form, it seems that Kidambi Srikanth, 24, will become the first Indian male to do what India’s female shuttlers have already done-rise to the top by beating the world’s best in badminton.On June 18, Srikanth won the Indonesia Open Super Series championship at Jakarta, the first time an Indian male had done so. He did so by outplaying Japan’s Kazumasa Sakai (21-11, 21-19), having already defeated the world champion, South Korea’s Son Wan-Ho, in the semi-final. Srikanth’s reward-aside from the $75,000 tournament prize-was his new status as India’s most successful badminton player, after Saina Nehwal, in the Super Series events.”And it’s Super Series Premier title,” Srikanth wrote on Instagram after he won. “I had to wait two years for this…. Special thanks to my coaches and physiotherapist.” With this, he becomes the first Indian male to clinch a Super Series, a Super Series Premier and a Grand Prix Gold title.But his road to success has been a bumpy one. “Returning to the international circuit after nursing an ankle injury and a long break is tough,” he remarked, “[especially] given the keen competition.” In 2014, Srikanth’s rise to the top had seemed all but assured. That year, he won the China Open by defeating local hero and then world champion Lin Dan in a historic upset. This had assured sky-high expectations for Srikanth’s 2016 Olympics outing. But it was not to be-at Rio, Dan had his revenge, edging Srikanth out of the running by defeating him in the quarter-finals. Srikanth admits that it was difficult for him to come to terms with that loss. Worse, he then suffered an ankle injury in the Japan Super Series last September, which kept him away from the sport for the longest spell since he began playing. It took some “very rigorous” training by Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo for Srikanth to get back in the groove. “There are [also] emotional challenges he has to overcome to gain greater confidence,” says India coach Pullela Gopichand, who says he is relieved that Srikanth’s parents will be shifting to Hyderabad (and closer to their son) in another month. Such was Srikanth’s emotional state that he had become superstitious, even taking to wearing a rudraksh locket, given to him by his mother to help “ward off challenges”.advertisementBefore the Indonesia Open, Srikanth was also on track to win the Singapore Open. However, he lost to compatriot B. Sai Praneeth, who is also his sparring partner at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad. “There was a phase of immaturity-it was difficult to get his intensity up after the Olympics,” recalls Gopichand. “Attacking players like him go through these ups and downs. [But] for Srikanth, age is on his side. A couple of years later it would be even more difficult to handle [emotional upheavals].”The Indonesia Open win has served as a defining moment in clearing mental barriers for Srikanth, from which, he says, he hopes there is no looking back. “Srikanth has a good attacking game, is quick to the net and has lot of deceptive shots. He is one of the most exciting players to watch when in full flow,” says former international player-turned- coach U. Vimal Kumar. Unlike in the past, Srikanth played a patient game against Sakai, preventing him from engaging in any fast-paced rallies. He dictated the pace of the game, using precisely angled returns and smashes to down his rival. “There has to be a constant effort to improve,” says the shuttler, on the most important lesson he has learned since his journey to the Olympics. But the success has not gone to his head-he is quite aware of how ephemeral such triumphs can be. “There is hardly any difference among the top 20,” he says. “Any one can beat [the others] on their day.” That said, Srikanth is not resting on his laurels either-his immediate goal is to gain entry into the Glasgow World Championship in August.For Srikanth, another journey now begins, a journey to first reclaim his career-high ranking of World No. 3-which he held in June 2015-and then, hopefully, to claim the top spot. Given his speedy, aggressive style of play, Srikanth’s rise to glory, one imagines, has only just begun.