Srikanth falls to Kean Yew's speed and guile

Kidambi Srikanth was more experienced and a former world No. 1, but he ran into a supremely confident Singaporean Loh Kean Yew - which cost the Indian the men's singles title at badminton's World Championships last Sunday.

Former Singaporean player Abdul Hamid Khan also pointed out that Kean Yew's "belief went very, very high" after he beat world No. 1 and 2020 Tokyo Olympics champion Viktor Axelsen in the first round and there was no stopping him thereafter.

"It was not all of a sudden that Kean Yew's confidence shot up," Hamid told tabla!. "He put in a lot of hard training. But importantly in recent months he began to win matches against the world's top 10 players.

"Winning the Dutch Open after defeating top seed Lakshya Sen of India, winning the Hylo Open in Germany three weeks later and finishing runner-up at the Indonesian Open sent his confidence soaring.

"He overcame several higher-ranked opponents, such as Taiwan's Chou Tien-chen, Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia and world No. 2 Kento Momota, which only made him think he could take on any rival.

"Srikanth has better skills. But in the final (of the World Championships) Kean Yew was far superior in terms of reading the game situation, employing the right tactics, movement and agility.

"It took him a while to get warmed up. But, once he understood what he had to do, he speeded up his game and started to believe in his abilities. The Indian had little chance."

According to Hamid, who played in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and three World Championships, a player's confidence level goes up more than 100 per cent when he starts believing in himself.

"Kean Yew was beating players at the World Championships with confidence and making very few errors," said the 56-year-old.

"I was stunned the way he thrashed Thailand's Kantaphon Wangcharoen (world No. 20) in the last 16 in just 30 minutes. It was clear that mentally he had improved tremendously.

"He also showed maturity. Initially against Srikanth he appeared overawed. He was a bit undecided about the shots to play. But, after being 3-9 down in the first game, he speeded up and moved up another gear.

"It was a 50-50 match, anyone could have won. In the end, Kean Yew's ability to retrieve smashes, convert defence into aggression, determination and resilience won the day. He did not even allow Srikanth to bounce back in the second game."

Hamid felt that, after his convincing 21-15, 22-20 win in the final, Kean Yew, who was unseeded at the World Championships, can go far at world level.

"In just seven weeks, he has skyrocketed from world No. 41 to 15. It shows the tremendous improvement in his game. But rivals will now target him. His coach has to calm him down and help him maintain his focus.

"As far as I see, there is no limit to his progress. He can win a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics. But he has to be disciplined as it is tough to remain at the top in badminton."

Hamid, a former director of coaching with the Singapore Badminton Association who currently runs a badminton academy of his own where he grooms young players, pointed out that every player at the highest level is skilful. It is the mental fortitude that sets one apart.

"You have to be very strong, resilient and show perseverance and endurance," he said. "That is very critical. The mental aspect is the most important."

 santosh@sph.com.sg

"You have to be very strong, resilient and show perseverance and endurance (to survive at the top). That is very critical. The mental aspect is the most important."

- Former Singaporean player Abdul Hamid Khan (above)

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