Indian badminton: Doubles pairs keep flag flying high as singles stars falter

As the Sudirman Cup is just a few months away, this inspiring showing in Dubai will drive India to ace a tougher test in May.

Published : Feb 19, 2023 14:03 IST , KOLKATA

India’s Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela in action.
India’s Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela in action. | Photo Credit: PTI

India’s Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela in action. | Photo Credit: PTI

India’s doubles players continue to make their presence felt on the global stage. The doubles pairing of Treesa Jolly-Gayatri Gopichand and Dhruv Kapila-Chirag Shetty were instrumental in India winning a bronze medal at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships 2023 ahead of the Sudirman Cup, scheduled in May.

World no. 6 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have underlined India’s growing influence in badminton doubles, winning two Super Series titles in India and France on the World Tour, a World Championships bronze, and CWG gold, apart from the Thomas Cup men’s team championships in 2022. 

Their success comes at a time when singles medals have been few and far between. There seems to be no heir apparent to P.V. Sindhu in women’s singles, with Malvika Bansod and Aakarshi Kashyap, the only two youngsters ranked in the top 50, yet to show promise of taking over the reins from their star predecessor. In contrast, India has multiple options in doubles.

Depth in doubles pool

Following Satwik-Chirag, world no. 24 Dhruv Kapila-M.R. Arjun has emerged as India’s reliable second option in men’s doubles. Dhruv and Arjun played their maiden World Championships quarterfinals in Tokyo last year and won the Maharashtra International Challenge title.

Notably, the Worlds in Tokyo witnessed seven Indian doubles pairings advancing past the first round. 

Treesa Jolly, Gayatri Gopichand, meanwhile, won the Odisha Open Super 100, securing a third-place finish in the All England Open and fourth place in CWG.

The rise of Indian doubles players has also impacted the BWF rankings, with seven pairings finding place in the Top 50 across three categories, compared to 11 in two singles disciplines. When it comes to breaking into the knockouts on the World Tour, Indian doubles specialists are more successful than their singles peers. Last season, six pairs in doubles reached the quarterfinals, at least once compared to three players in singles. 

Unexpected losses and counterattack

In the semifinals of the continental Mixed Team Championships on Saturday, the unexpected losses of H.S. Prannoy and Sindhu to two unheralded Chinese shuttlers dented India’s chances of playing the maiden final in the continental championships. But the Indian doubles teams, despite featuring young and inexperienced talents, struck China where its strength lies.

The fast-rising women’s doubles pairing of Treesa and Gayatri, the world no. 19, was winless against world no. 5 Pearly Tan-Thinaah Muralitharan until last week. In Dubai, after four consecutive losses, they came triumphant against the Malaysians, and that too in straight games (23-21, 21-15).

Treesa-Gayatri made a big statement with the win, and the two remained unbeaten in the tournament as India secured a historic third-place finish in the continental Championships.

In the semifinals against China, in a battle of teenagers, the Treesa-Gayatri combo maintained its composure and trounced Liu Shengshu and Tan Ning in a three-setter. Treesa’s defence-splitting smashes and Gayatri’s neat net play enabled India to prevail 21-18, 13-21, 21-19, even though Liu and Tan dominated the decider for the better part of the game.

Similarly, Dhruv Kapila, who came into the squad as a last-minute replacement for Satwik, showed his class despite not having enough pairing sessions with Chirag Shetty. The makeshift pairing, on paper, India’s weak link in the Championships, won two back-to-back matches, including the one in the semifinals in straight games (21-19, 21-19) against a skilful He Jiting-Zhou Haodong that helped India restore parity at 2-2 against China.

Had India won one of the singles fixtures, it would have knocked reigning champion China out of the championships and sealed its place in the final. The fact is that Prannoy and Sindhu losing to two of China’s out of 100 singles players early in the tie came as a big blow to India.

Unheralded Lei Lanxi and Gao Fangjie might lack the wealth of experience of Prannoy and Sindhu. But their strategically equipped games had enough firepower to beat two of the world’s best shuttlers. Lanky Fangjie, with her spacious reach, deployed her range of strokes to puzzle a rusty Sindhu, whose court coverage is yet to reach her pre-injury level, while Lanxi, with his quick movement, smashes and drop shots, put Prannoy in trouble. With wins in singles matches, Lanxi and Fangjie gave China a 2-0 edge over India.

Yet, doubles players displaying the maturity of experienced pros forced China to play all five matches to earn a victory.

Notwithstanding the defeat, India, which went into the tournament as an unseeded unit, returned home with many positives as it beat fourth-seeded Malaysia to top its group and Hong Kong in the quarterfinals, with doubles facilitating the wins. As the Sudirman Cup is just a few months away, this inspiring showing in Dubai will drive India to ace a tougher test in May..

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