There was a time in early 2017, Ruthvika Shivani Gadde remembers, when she’d sit in front of the television watching badminton and have one question in her mind: “Why am I not there, on court?”
A year earlier, she had announced her presence on the big stage with an upset win over PV Sindhu in the South Asian Games final. Then she’d go on to win her first Grand Prix title at the Russian Open, and even help India clinch bronze at the Uber Cup.
The results had taken her as high as 49 in the world rankings. And more was expected of her, till she injured her knee in January. All of a sudden, the rising star in Indian badminton had suffered a setback. “When you’re outside and seeing people playing, you ask ‘why not me?’ The questions come all the time,” she says.
It was only in June that she got back to playing competitive badminton, yet had to endure loss after loss, as her body was still not responding the way she would have liked. Ruthvika was apprehensive when she travelled to Mumbai, but her fortunes were to change, as the 20-year-old would find a silver lining in an injury-ravaged career, and clinch the title at the Tata Open International Challenge. She beat unseeded Riya Mukherjee 21-12, 23-21.
“It’s taken a really long time for me to get back,” says the current World No.119. “Slowly the confidence is coming back. Now, I need to make sure I stay injury free.”
It was her first international final since she finished runner-up at the Hyderabad International Challenge last year. Her variation, power and trademark smashes were on display as she lost just two games enroute the title.
“She’s a very technical and aggressive player,” says Amrish Shinde, a coach at the Gopichand Academy where she trains. “She plays wristy strokes from the net and baseline that give her an edge. There is a lot of deception in that.”
In the final, Ruthvika did not shy away from playing longer rallies on the slow CCI court — a sign that her fitness levels had finally started to improve. Earlier in November, the Vijaywada native had reached the semi-final of the Senior National Championship in Nagpur, where she came up against Sindhu. There too Ruthvika unexpectedly won the first game, but fizzled out as the match went on as her fitness let her down.
“We’ve been pushing her to work on her fitness, but her body has not been able to adapt,” Mohammed Siyadath Ullah Siddiqui, a coach from the Gopichand Academy had told the Indian Express. “Because of it she’s become prone to injury, and she can’t build her endurance and strength. That’s the only thing lacking for her.”
On Sunday though, it was her fitness itself that served her well, as she’d save four game points in the second game and go on to convert her first match point opportunity to pick up her first title of the season.
“Her rehabilitation work from the injury is still going on. But right now, she’s trying to judge herself and the areas that she’s finding uncomfortable,” Shinde adds. “A player of her stature is capable of much bigger results.”
Three years ago, at the Tata Open itself, Ruthvika had won her career’s first ever title. Since then the wins kept piling on until the unceremonious break earlier this year. She returned to the same tournament this time with a knee brace on her left foot. “Hopefully, this will be my new beginning,” she says.