Ruthvika Shivani Gadde, when growing up in Khammam in erstwhile Andhra circa 2002, was a diligent little girl, prone to listening to every instruction her coaches uttered. Extremely particular about her shoes and racquet, she would even pick stray feathers dropping off the shuttle when smacked hard during practice and put them neatly back into her bag.
Shuttles came at a premium back then, and the girl, still only 5 years old, got into a habit of collecting the feathers, both clearing out the litter and patching them back, to be reused. That meticulous streak is now yielding dividends as she became the third Indian after Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu to pick a Grand Prix title, winning the Russian Open at Vladivostok.
Beating Russian Evgeniya Kosetskaya 21-10, 21-13 in the finals on Sunday, 4th seed Ruthvika picked her first international seniors title of the third rung event.
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Coming from the Pullela Gopichand stable, Ruthvika has steadily built her repertoire of strokes in the last few years, in which she has picked the u-10, 13, 15, 17, 19 national titles as well as the Senior Nationals in 2015.
She had beaten Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu at the South Asian Games finals in what was a sensational result for the 19-year-old, though it was at this summer’s Uber Cup where she won a crucial third singles match against Thai No 3 Nitchaon Jindapol that she first displayed her ability to withstand pressure. “The Sindhu win gave me a lot of confidence, but the Russia title is important because now I’m slowly learning how to win from those tricky 15-all situations which were earlier challenging,” she says.
Uber Cup live rubber had meant she belonged at this level. “It’s a different experience to play at the international level. And you only get confidence when you win pressure matches,” she said, adding that the usual transition pangs from junior to senior have been overcome. “This gives me confidence to be on international circuit,” she adds.
At Vladivostok where the Russians – badminton’s new emerging nation in Europe – were out in full force, Ruthvika trailed 8-2 in the decider of the quarterfinals against Elena Komendrovskaja, before she shifted gears rapidly to go on the offensive and win the match 13-21, 21-10, 21-17 after a flurry of 9 straight points. “That was the most challenging game. Most Russians play doubles and have those attacking strokes and smashes, but I matched her attack in the end,” she said of the 52 minute high intensity game.
In the finals she was up against a mirror image of herself – a tall Russian with a proclivity to attack – but had enough strokes to win easy.
Ruthvika tends to be a steady player, but has developed a whiplash variety of deceptive strokes – changed at the last second with her wristwork. For someone who started at Khammam’s Sequel Club, the 5’8” has always had a greater variety in strokes than other juniors, though her academy mate and rival Rituparna Das boasts of some elegant strokes of her own. Ruthvika though – has been consistent winning silver at Asian Badmintons in u-15 – and has sharpened her cross drops and tosses, and boasts some natural footwork. As a kid, she would practice over a chord strung across walls – the height adjusted to help her hit her stride when playing strokes naturally. She still needs solid strength work on her legs and power in quads, says father Bhavani Prasad Gadde.
The family was well off owning a couple of granite factories, though more than 3 acres land was sold off when Ruthvika’s stead results meant her shift to Gopichand’s academy became imminent.
She suffered a nightmarish 9 months two years ago when she was down with hepatitis – something that she had trouble recovering from because it kept her at home for the longest. “Since 5, she’s been an active child, not sleeping without practice a single day. Then suddenly she was bed ridden, and would cry every day because she was too weak to even walk,” father says.
The Uber Cup signalled her return though the nationals had been cornered a season before, and the Guwahati gold was an indication of a star on the rise. Ruthvika’s real test will be in the top rung Super Series events – and a few upset wins over top players should mark the arrival of yet another shuttle star in women’s singles.
A fair few feathers will be beaten into disintegration in the meantime, as Ruthvika Shivani Gadde ascends on the badminton horizon.