V Diju pays his mixed doubles partner Jwala Gutta the ultimate compliment when he says shes so confident on the court she could win matches with any partner. That daring dash rubs onto him when the duo are battling tricky opponents and trickier matches. Riding on that,and his clearly dominant smashing from the back-court,the Indians made their first foray into the top 20 in the world rankings on Thursday No 17 a week after they downed the world champions.
This is uncharted territory no Indian pair have made it this far in mixed doubles. But with two Grand Prix titles in the last one year and steady results in the Super Series,Diju and Jwala are evoking interest in mixed doubles,which the 28-year-old from Thrissur laughingly calls the tailpiece of badminton news reports.
Diju carried an unsettled look in the doubles,having famously been asked to split with Sanave Thomas at a camp some years ago and later attempting to combine with Jaseel Ismail,JBS Vidyadhar and Akshay Dewalkar with varied results. But yet another camp three years ago saw him pair up with Jwala for mixed doubles and the left-right combination worked merrily. There are only three-four left-right pairs in mixed doubles,and it works great because we manage to cover the whole court together, Diju says.
Still struggling to zero in on a partner for doubles,Diju says hed be better off focusing on mixed doubles now. We have half a dozen wins in our career against top 10 pairs. From 1-20,the difference in the levels isnt much,frankly. Wed be beating No 1 one day,and might lose to No 20 the next. But we know whats needed to win now.
Conceding that Indians fall short by a considerable distance in strength and speed,Diju says that though that can be remedied,the larger problem is of sparring partners. When we return to practice in India,we play our own game,with lifts and the like. But the shuttle movement of Indonesians and Koreans is faster. It takes 3-4 games to adjust to their speed. It would be good if we could spar with them to get used to the pace, he says.
With mens doubles not quite working out,when he and Jwala travelled to Europe last year spending close to a lakh out of their pockets,he knew the season would be a make-or-break one. Every round counted and the prize money became important, he recalls,before the Bitburger and Bulgaria titles were won. Now Diju intends to check Chetan Anands availability to play doubles,though he knows that for Indias top-ranked player,singles is a priority.
He still stands agape,though,when Jwala,in one of her boisterous runs during a match,smashes one hard,as three people stand watching awestruck.