India are Thomas Cup champions.
For a country that participated in its first edition 73 years ago and never made it past the semifinals, the enormity of that achievement will need no reminding. The happenings of finals day will be recounted as sporting legend.
A Kidambi Srikanth rocket that homed in on unguarded space brought to reality what was, not so long ago, just remote possibility.
In their 3-0 takedown of defending champions Indonesia, India executed one of the most remarkable stories of the Thomas Cup, a story brought alive as much by what happened on court as off it. The wind in the team’s sails was the bond between its members, seniors and juniors, that created the energy needed to lift the players during critical periods. That one of the youngest members of the team – Priyanshu Rajawat – was given the honour of receiving the Thomas Cup on the podium said much about the bonds that had been forged.
It was the manifestation of this spirit too that saw Lakshya Sen finally finding form at this event, after days spent recovering from a bout of food poisoning that had laid him low. Sen took his time to get into the contest against Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, but once his defence got organised, the momentum shifted, Sen a forceful presence that Ginting couldn’t shake off. The vital first blow was struck.
When they look back on this final, Indonesia will ruminate over their four missed match points in the second match, between Mohammad Ahsan/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty. The Indonesians were nearly locked in for the tie-leveller, at 20-17 in the second game.
“Before the tie, I talked to the team, I told them sometimes it’s a matter of the rhythm shifting on one point,” Rankireddy said later.
It was Mohammad Ahsan, the most experienced of all in the teams’ line-up, who made the error, smashing into the net with the Indians at his mercy. “Luck had turned our way,” said Rankireddy. Two more match points would be saved and the decider won by a narrow margin.
Seven months ago Jonatan Christie had seen his team through to the title, but today he was up against Kidambi Srikanth, who’d been the rock for his team all week. And so, when Kidambi saved two game points in the second and created his opportunity for the title, there was almost a sense of inevitability to what would follow – shuttle high in the air, a leap, a smash. India were champions for the first time in a major team event.
“Even after leading 2-0, we knew that Indonesia have a strong team and it was important to close out and win those crucial points,” said Kidambi.
“This might sound a little dramatic. But you know, when I was in Korea for the Korea Masters, and the following week we had selection trials… immediately after those trials, when the team got announced, we created a (Whatsapp) group titled ‘We’ll Bring It Home’, or something like that. This happened a week before the tournament started. So yeah… we always thought we are capable, but we only had to be consistent. Coming here, it was a fantastic team and we had great atmosphere. We were a happy team, and we were really supporting each other and backing each other.
“I’m very happy. Every win, every achievement has its own uniqueness. India has never won the Thomas Cup before this. Now to be part of a team that has won the Thomas Cup and to contribute to the team’s win gives me a lot of happiness. Every time you contribute to the team’s win you get a different feeling, especially in a final. I’m happy that throughout this tournament I could win my matches and give those crucial points to the team.”