New Delhi: His Commonwealth Games debut spoiled by brain fever four years ago, Kidambi Srikanth, now the toast of the nation, is eyeing a maiden medal at the Gold Coast multi-sport extravaganza after a sensational run last season.
Weeks before he was to make his debut at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Srikanth was battling for life in an Intensive Care Unit. He was found unconscious on the bathroom floor of the Gopichand Academy and later diagnosed with brain fever. He ended up spending about a week in the ICU, giving a mighty scare to his near and dear ones. But that is history.
Cut to 2018, Srikanth is arguably one of the best sportspersons in the country, walking shoulder to shoulder with the who's who of the sporting world. With four titles under his belt, Srikanth swept all the sports awards, including the prestigious Padma Shri, and is considered a hot-favourite for the coveted gold medal at Gold Coast.
"It was some sort of a virus, I don't even know the name. Nobody even wanted to tell me what happened that day and I don't remember much," Srikanth says, recalling the incident in 2014.
"I was playing good enough so I returned and played at the Commonwealth Games but lost to a Singapore guy in the quarters," he recollects.
"Now after four years, I think I am much more confident after all the experience of the last one year, so it will be a different experience. Of course, winning a medal at CWG ranks high in my list," he says.
In less than a fortnight, Srikanth will carry the aspirations of millions on his shoulders as he looks to retain the Commonwealth Games gold medal that Parupalli Kashyap had won for India in Glasgow after 32 long years.
Only Prakash Padukone (1978, Edmonton) and Syed Modi (1982, Brisbane) have won gold in badminton at this multi-sport event. "Last time we had won a good number of medals and now we are playing much better than what we were four years back and we have a great chance of winning more medals this time.
"Commonwealth Games is priority for me. Winning a medal there is more important than becoming world number 1 and I will look to remain fit. It is one of the targets of the year," adds the 25-year-old.
Born in Ravulapalem, a small town in Andhra Pradesh, Srikanth's journey in badminton was all about following the footsteps of his brother Nandagopal, a doubles India player. While he followed Nandagopal to train at Gopichand Academy, his life took a massive turn at Fuzhou, China where he became the first Indian to win a Super Series Premier Men's title, beating five-time world champion and two- time Olympic champion Lin Dan at 2014 China Open final.
The following year, Srikanth won the Indian Super Series title and Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold and zoomed to world number 3, a peak that has been scaled only by two other Indian men ? Padukone and Pullela Gopichand, now the chief India coach.
He continued his good run, winning the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold before qualifying for the Rio Olympics. However, after being on the cusp of a historic Olympic medal, Srikanth failed to outwit Lin Dan, a defeat that left him rattled for a long time. That was followed by an ankle injury.
With his right leg heavily strapped, Srikanth worked on his reflexes and eye-arm coordination. Unable to stand for long he sat and took one shuttle after another fed by coach Gopichand.
His determination bore fruit as once he was back on court, Srikanth simply owned it by clinching titles at Indonesia, Australia, Denmark and France, which catapulted him to the upper echelons of sports world.
However, when it came to a big-ticket event like the Glasgow World Championship, Srikanth couldn't break the ceiling, finishing at the quarters again. Another injury kept him away from China Open and Hong Kong Open before he entered the Dubai Super Series, but disappointment was in store for him as he crashed out without a single win.
At the recently-concluded All England Championship, Srikanth again finished at the pre-quarterfinal and the Indian ace will have to quickly get over the disappointment and switch his focus to Gold Coast.
With a slew of big events lined up this season, Srikanth would look to sort out the issues plaguing him at the biggest stage, and the process will start at the Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre.
If he can help India retain the men's gold, it will be one big step forward ahead of the Worlds, Asian Games and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.