All England Badminton: Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela continue giant-killing run to enter last 8

The victory came with a divine drop after the highly-excitable Treesa Jolly had had enough of Japanese Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota attempting to slow down the pace and retrieve all her smashes on the last five match points.

The drop came like a euphemism to a steep down-kill, and covered an exaggerated parabola to land close to the forecourt, even as the Japanese braced to return another smash. They lunged forward but it fell like a tease and they were too late to react as Indians Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullella completed yet another Top-Ten scalp, this time former No. 1s, winning 21-14, 24-22.

There were moments in the match against the ninth-ranked – like on Wednesday against the seventh-seeded Thais – when the opponents were plainly rattled at some of the incredulous things Treesa was achieving on court. Like when she flicked the shuttle to the tramlines with an easy wrist swish.

Because her attack is so powerful, it is the understated variations – the half-smashes, the drops and those flicky prods – that earn the Indians so many points with their hint of surprise. When one has power, and uses it to merely loom large, while using the placements to score – that is Treesa’s role in this combine.

The rotations between Treesa and Gayatri were going smoothly too, and it helped that neither was stuck guarding the net and copping the pressure. Gayatri would track a few steps behind and hit as many from the back.

The plan, like in the earlier round, was to set the tone early and the Indians went on the attack from the get-go, never allowing the Japanese to settle into their pace. The 2020 champions and former World no.1s like long rallies and a rhythmic advance of shots. The Indians couldn’t wait to kill the points. They had the leads at 11-7 in the first and 11-4 in the second, as the Japanese were clearly shaken.

At 15-6, Hirota and Fukushima were sent off to two diagonal corners and Treesa moved in quickly to encash the set-up, bisecting the line as both Japanese were caught scrambling in the middle of the court.

Stirring into action only when the Indians began making mistakes trying to close out the match, Hirota-Fukushima got going at 19-14 in the second. Saving four match points, they tried attacking Gayatri, and succeeded in pushing the game to extra points.

The Indians – briefly rushed – regained their composure, and defended spectacularly against the going-for-broke onslaught. It ended up in a long rally where frantic defending and overt attack from the Indians had set a frenzied pace. On the sixth match point at 23-22, Treesa pulled out a delectable straight loopy drop which gave the Indians their second Top-Ten scalp in as many days, and a place in the quarters.

The Indians had made semis last year with two higher-ranked scalps and one opponent retiring due to injury. This time, the momentum has been built over a month, as they secured points for India in the bronze-winning Asian Mixed Team championships last month. The two would then dutifully turn up at the Nationals, playing two matches a day and going on to take their first title, fairly unchallenged at home.

But it is at the All England this week that Treesa-Gayatri have shown just how far they’ve come. The endgame stutter might’ve annoyed coach Mathias Boe. But the two have otherwise been on the ball, following instructions to the T.

Satwik-Chirag, Lakshya lose

It was the closest of matches, but Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty could not close out after a favourable start as they lost 21-10, 17-21, 19-21 to the young upstarts from China, Liang Wei Keng and Chang Wang, in 56 minutes. The scorching pace of the rallies saw the first two games even stevens in 31 minutes. It was Liang’s tumble serve that bothered the Indians, who had started well playing the first four strokes domineeringly in the opener.

Boe would warn them that the Chinese would come hard at them in the second, and that’s exactly what happened. But the Indian defence cracked to allow the Chinese first a toe-hold and then the entire momentum as the Satwik-Chirag slumped a little and allowed errors against the India Open winners to eat into their early lead, and end up short of the quarters.

Lakshya Sen just couldn’t get his rhythm going against Anders Antonsen and tamely lost 21-13, 21-15 in his Round-of-16 match. The Dane tends to be prone to errors, but Sen just couldn’t find his lengths on the day nor the precision in his attack. Antonsen was anything but brittle on the day, and his compact defence and composed retrieving tended to frustrate Sen, who remained stuck in a gear, hoping for mistakes from his opponent that never came.

Sen led 11-5 in the second game. But at that stage, the long punishing rallies started to repeatedly go Antonsen’s way which further slumped Sen’s shoulders. One toss-off particularly ended with Antonsen snapping out of the tossathon to whip out a cross-smash, and Sen just couldn’t break through his opponent’s tightly-bound defence.

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