Hard work and good performances can sustain a partnership for only so long. After a while, one needs results to provide evidence of progress being made.
Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy have been playing together for quite some time now, but it seemed the pair was unable to take the next big step.
Winning a match or two at big tournaments and then going down to fancied opponents after a close fight can leave one deflated. It’s in this context that Tuesday’s 22-20 21-19 victory over the higher-ranked Chinese combination of Li Wenmei and Zheng Yu at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open should be seen.
Ashwini and her former doubles partner Jwala Gutta enjoyed considerable success – including a world championship bronze in 2011 and Commonwealth Games gold a year earlier – but her combination with Sikki wasn’t delivering the desired results. “We used to get chances against higher-ranked opponents, but couldn’t convert. We used to get to quarters and semis, and not take the next step,” Ashwini said after their win against the Chinese pair ranked five places above them at No. 18.
The Indians trailed in both games, but never let their opponents get out of sight. They were even down a game point in the first game, but won three straight points to take the opener. The second game went on similar lines.
The teams kept exchanging leads but the Indians had another finishing kick in them to seal a spot in the second round after a riveting 47-minute encounter. “This win is all the more satisfying as there were no easy points. We were behind 7-11 at the mid-game break in the opener, but recovered well thereafter.”
The presence of Indonesian coach Flandy Limpele in their corner also contributed in the turnaround. The Badminton Association of India had recently roped in Limpele’s services along with Indonesia’s Namrih Suroto, who joined the camp following the exit of Malaysian Tan Kim Her.
“We were making easy mistakes at the start. The coach told us to be patient and consistent, and target the Chinese’s slight weakness at the net,” Sikki chipped in. “He told us to shorten our swing, open our bodies and keep the elbows high. We took charge of the net and put them under pressure.”
The duo is working on specific aspects of their game, which they believe can take them higher up the rankings. “Serve and returns are two areas where we needed to improve. In crunch situations, they have let us down. Also, we need to start games better. Training under the new coach has been very intense, and we have to carry on till our arms ache. We have worked a lot to address our lack of consistency. We have not focused a lot on women’s doubles in the last few months as we were playing mixed doubles as well, but have started working hard on it,” Ashwini said.
Qualifying for the Olympics is a medium-term goal for all shuttlers in the coming months and tournaments, but the Bangalore girl wants something else too. “It’s our goal to win a big tournament. We’ve not played many smaller events. It’s always the big competitions where we face the toughest players.”
Other locals disappoint
All but two of the 20 qualifying spots available in the main draw of the five disciplines were taken by Indian players – including all eight in the singles. Out of the 16 shuttlers in the men’s singles qualifiers, 13 were from India. But otherwise, there was not much to cheer the local contingent on the first day of main draw competition.
Only doubles matches were played in the main draw on Tuesday, and apart from the exploits of Ashwini and Sikki, the other Indians came a cropper. The local players who did advance in the draw did so at the expense of their compatriots.
Second seeds knocked out
The biggest upset of the day came in men’s doubles where the second seeds from Malaysia, Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong, were shown the door by the Indonesian pairing of Ricky Karandasuwardi and Angga Pratama in a tight contest 17-21 23-21 21-19 in 49 minutes.
Top seeds Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen had a facile victory, but the ouster of the No.2 seeds can open up the draw for the several Indian combinations in the fray.
Singles action begins on Wednesday with the likes of PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma representing the Indian interest. Former champions Viktor Axelsen and Ratchanok Intanon as well as Chinese contender He Bingjao will also take the court.