The marquee wins are coming in thick and fast for Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullella, almost like the shackles of inexperience are broken. They always played like they belonged in the top league. The results are now following that conviction.
On Wednesday, at their sophomore All England, Treesa-Gayatri showed no second-season blues as they went about dismantling experienced Thai 7th seeds Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Ravinda Prajongjai.
It was confident relentless blazing downward attack on every single point that the pair of 19 and 20-year-olds threw at their senior opponents, with Treesa especially looking first, unstoppable and finally a creator of endless possibilities in the 21-18, 21-14 victory. It was an atypical and frenzied style of play that shook up the usually staid disposition of women’s doubles, and brought about a turnaround after 4 losses the Indians had endured over the last two seasons against the seasoned Thais.
Treesa, forever sees huge gaps on the opposing court and goes about exploiting them positionally. On this day, she would play those deft drops with the looming possibility of one of her smashes, rattling the opponents into getting tangled about whether to stay in front or go behind. Gayatri would join in on the fun as the Indians played out an intelligent game of stringing the hassled opponents forward and back.
The disguised drop-and-smash combination and the alternating smash-and-sheathed drop 1-2 to all parts of the court would bring the Indians Set 1 when playing against the drift. Gayatri had a couple of nervous errors at the net early on on this day, but once she got into the smash/drop tango a little away from the meshing, her nerves settled too as they nicked the first-ever set from this pairing, 21-18.
At 16-16, a crucial juncture from where the Thais could have stepped up the pedal and run away with the score came Treesa’s canniest moment on the court. It was a longish rally where she had absorbed the up-scaling attack with a scrambling desperate defense, when she decided to pop the shuttle up and it caught the backline, stunning the Thais.
She would flick-lift one back again at 20-18 with such precision that it would stun the opponents who seemingly never recovered from the loss of that opening set.
In the second, Gayatri’s net interceptions would improve and the winners came faster, as they pressed ahead with the lead after reaching 11-9. One more thing the Indian attack accomplished was to put Jongkolphan Kititharakul’s serve under pressure, as a couple of service errors materialised.
Playing with the drift in the second, Treesa again showed the smarts to play the lines – but this time the side tramlines with the racquet head turned for pinpoint cross drops. Because she was charging the net for her downward attack at most times – and Gayatri would bisect the Thais too – the drop variation to the sidelines completely befuddled the opponents.
They say women’s doubles pairings really come into their own at 23-24. But at 19 and 20 respectively, Treesa and Gayatri are slowly ticking boxes of higher-ranked players. And no one is surprised either.
Like Lakshya Sen, the All England is a happy hunting ground for the women’s doubles pairing too. Last year, they were promoted from reserves before rattling Korean World Championship silver medallists Lee Sohee – Shin Seungchuan and had also nicked a win off Benyapa Aimsaard and Nuntakarn Aimsaard, sisters before being stopped in the semis.
A fortnight back, they overturned with a win a 0-5 margin against Malaysians Pearly Tan and Thinaah Muralitharan at the Asian Mixed Team event, and at the All England, they reversed a 0-4 head-to-head against the Top Ten Thais.
The Indians next play Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota, Japanese World No.9, and will be tested over long rallies against these opponents.
Not the best day, comeback stronger champ 🙌
📸: @badmintonphoto #AllEngland2023#Badminton pic.twitter.com/HLMRaeLh8a
— BAI Media (@BAI_Media) March 15, 2023
PV Sindhu had a forgettable All-England outing as she lost 21-17, 21-11 to Chinese World No 17 Zhang Yi Man in Round 1 on Wednesday. Still looking cagey in her movements coming back from the ankle injury, Sindhu never got going with her confident attack against Zhang.
Sindhu led 16-13 in the opener going on a four-point flurry with her drops but strangely flatlined thereafter as Zhang pushed the pedal. It was crosscourt smashes to Sindhu’s backhand that did the damage as the Indian remained a tad listless and leaden-footed.
On the massive Utilita arena’s slower courts, those capable of accelerating in the third set are said to thrive, but Sindhu didn’t look like she had enough fuel in the tank on this day. Points came in clusters, but she would soon wither off, and the second set was one-sided with Zhang racing away with 6 points from being 4-5 down and then didn’t look back to scurry away into round 2.