If we are to focus on the shuttle, then it can be said doubles format is the sped-up version of the single. While India's singles badminton players enjoy their stardom, there is a stark contrast when it comes to the popularity between the singles players and doubles players. At a time, when badminton pundits are talking about P V Sindhu's chances at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics fuelled by her World Championships victory, Srikanth Kidambi's worrying form and Sai Praneeth renewed vigour, we have often failed to address the issues cropping up in double's segment, which remains to be a a poor cousin.
The Indian the men's double pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty clinched the biggest title of their careers on the BWF tour as they defeated reigning world champions and 2nd-ranked Chinese pair of Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen of China in the men's doubles final of Thailand Open Super 500 tournament in the first week of August. However, it has a worrisome couple of years for India's only hope in women's double - the pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy.
Earlier, Jwala Gutta who had done well in mixed doubles with V Diju already, formed a formidable partnership with Ponnappa in women’s doubles. The Gutta-Ponnappa partnership helped shine a light on doubles. They won India a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships – India’s second-ever medal in the tournament after Padukone’s men’s singles bronze in 1983. They had already created history the previous year by winning the gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The duo reached top-10 in the world in 2015. And even though their success wasn’t quite enough to start a revolution in doubles, it shook things up enough to demand a change. In 2016, with the team gearing up for the Rio Olympics, India hired an international doubles specialist coach for the first time in Tan Kim Her. And the experienced Malaysian coach has made some important tweaks in the setup. In November 2016, it was Tan who brought N. Sikki Reddy and formed the new pair of Ashwinni and Sikki. The pair began their journey on a high. With a rank of 110th, while starting 2017, the duo had breached the top 30 halfway through the season.
Ashwini-Sikki, though have been able to stay afloat in the contention and will be in Indian contingent for the Tokyo 2020 Games, with a present rank of 14th, the pair, again India's only hope in women's doubles category, has failed to create any impact as much as we have had in singles.
Presently, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) list, which is Sports Ministry’s flagship program to provide assistance to India’s top athletes, comprises the names of ten shuttlers including India’s top names like P V Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Srikanth Kidambi, who despite hasn’t shone in his recent outings remains India’s top male shuttlers. But the list further comprises the names Ashwini and Sikki, who despite striking bronze at the Commonwealth Games 2018, has lost in the opening round of a tournament recently as many as ten times.
Looking back at the duo's performance so far in 2019:
Malaysia Open masters 2019 (Super 500) - Lost in R16 (18-21, 17-21) against Indonesia's Ni Ketut Mahadewi ISTARANI/ Rizki Amelia PRADIPTA (WR 20)
Indonesia Masters 2019 (Super 500) - Lost in R32 (14-21, 14-21) against Thailand's Jongkolphan KITITHARAKUL / Rawinda PRAJONGJAI (WR 09)
All England (Super 1000) - Lost in R32 (21-16, 26-28, 16-21) against Japan's Shiho TANAKA / Koharu YONEMOTO (WR 10)
Swiss Open (Super 300) - Lost in QF (17-21, 17-21) against Japan's Nami MATSUYAMA / Chiharu SHIDA (WR 14)
India Open (Super 500) - Lost in QF (10-21, 18-21) against Indonesia's Greysia POLII / Apriyani RAHAYU (WR 06)
Malaysia Open (Super 750) - Lost in R32 (20-22, 21-17, 20-22) against Korea's BAEK Ha Na/ KIM Hye Rin (Both are playing with different partner)
New Zealand Open (Super 300) - Lost in R32 (14-21, 23-21, 14-21) against China's LIU Xuan Xuan/XIA Yu Ting (WR 30)
In Sudirman Cup lost against Both China and Malaysia in Round Robin
Australian Open (Super 300) - Lost in R32 (14-21, 13-21) against Korea's BAEK Ha Na/KIM Hye Rin
Indonesia Open (Super 1000) - Lost in R32 (20-22, 22-20, 20-22) against Malaysia's Vivian HOO / YAP Cheng Wen (WR 22)
Japan Open (Super 750) - Lost in R32 (16-21, 14-21) against Korea's KIM So Yeong / KONG Hee Yong (WR 08)
Thailand Open (Super 500) - Lost in R32 (7-21, 13-21) against China's LI Wen Mei / ZHENG Yu (WR 12)
Hyderabad Open (Super 100) - lost in FINALS (17-21, 17-21) against Korea's BAEK Ha Na / JUNG Kyung Eun (WR 25)
BWF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS - lost in R32 (20-22, 16-21) against China's DU Yue/LI Yin Hui (WR 07)
China Open (Super 1000) - lost in R16 (12-21, 17-21) against Japan's Misaki MATSUTOMO / Ayaka TAKAHASHI (WR 04)
Maldives International Challenge (international Challenge) - lost in FINALS (10-21, 21-17, 12-21) against Japan's Sayaka HOBARA / Natsuki SONE (WR 50)
DENMARK OPEN (Super 750) - lost in R32 (23-25, 18-21) against Japan's Mayu MATSUMOTO / Wakana NAGAHARA (WR 01)
Out of the 17 tournaments, the duo exited ten times in their opening round, finishing runners up just at Super 100 Hyderabad Open and a comparatively lesser significant Maldives International Challenge. The past three years of performance has just yielded a single medal at the CWG 2018.
It is very disheartening to see almost the pair losing out in their Round 1 or Round 2 in big tournaments. Doubles is an altogether different game when compared to singles, it is a game of fast exchanges, moreover, if you don't have power then you can't finish the game. And Indian women's doubles pair of Ashwini and Sikki remains a big blot amid our other successful narratives.