Rivalry well poised: Treesa-Gayatri and Ashwini-Tanisha fight for a Paris Olympic spot
As the race for the 2024 Olympics gets intensified, Gayatri-Treesa and Ashwini-Tanisha are likely to engage in a raging battle - both directly and indirectly - in the weeks to come for a spot in the Games.
In sports, competitiveness is understood rather easily than the very need for competition. It is because enmity is at the core of enjoying sports and fandom.
Where there is competition, the yearning to get better of one another and surpass each other is strong. When two teams or two athletes meet more frequently, it makes it difficult for us to predict the winner.
Rivalry is something that makes the pain of defeat so serious and the joy of triumph the most comprehensive.
Rivalry is also an inspiration to get better as athletes evolve in their careers. It is also inspired by causes that the athletes are not at the helm of.
In Indian badminton, Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, Ashwini Ponnappa, and Tanisha Crasto, for example, are raising each other's game, inspired and frustrated by the other.
Unlike the rivalry between two players from two different countries, the rivalry of two pairings who are sparring partners at the same academy is different. They complete each other; they enhance each others' abilities to get better. Each found something in the other to make them whole.
For India to find two doubles pairings of high calibre with skills and fitness to earn international success is a rare occurrence.
But, Treesa-Gayatri and Ashwini-Tanisha have seemed to have successfully broken the anomaly around Indian women's doubles by emerging as two world-class pairings.
Badminton in India has been going through a tectonic diversification as doubles players are being regarded as more serious medal contenders in almost all events as compared to their singles counterparts, who, for various reasons, have run out of steam.
In the race to the Paris Olympics, the friendly rivalry between Treesa-Gayatri and Ashwini-Tanisha, the pairing which came into being only a year ago and conjured up fresh hopes by producing some stunning performances on the BWF World Tour, has been aggravated by the sheer competition of securing a quota place in the 2024 Games.
At the moment, Ashwini and Tanisha - at the 18th spot - are leading the race for India's lone slot in the women's doubles category, while Treesa and Gayatri are standing ten places behind their Indian counterparts.
At a time when Tanisha and Ashwini produced some great results, making a runner-up finish at the Syed Modi India International in Lucknow last year, where Treesa and Gayatri succumbed to a 19-21, 8-21 defeat in the quarterfinal in what was their first meeting, their Indian rivals' form has gone downhill.
Tanisha and Ashwini would then win their maiden BWF Tour event at the Guwahati Masters Super 100 before making another runner-up finish at the Odisha Masters, also a Super 100 event. They would start the year 2024 by playing their first Super 1000 event at the Malaysia Open, where they made an impressive quarterfinal finish.
Due to the consistency the duo showed, they also burst into the top 20 before being ranked 21st and put Treesa and Gayatri, who for two good years were regarded as India's most promising women's doubles pair, behind at the 22nd spot. Just a year and a half ago, Treesa and Gayatri were India's highest-ranked pair at the world rank of 15.
Treesa and Gayatri - the two 20-year-olds - suffered from poor form at the end of the last season after an injury to Gayatri halted their progress.
Yet, they are by miles India's most illustrious pair now, with their most productive year coming in 2022, when they won Commonwealth Games silver, helped India win bronze at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships, where the duo were at the peak of their form with they registering their maiden win over Malaysian World No.5 Thinaah Muralitharan and Pearly Tan. The pair also made a runner-up finish at Syed Modi India International.
Though they lost sheen in the last few months, Treesa and Gayatri would draw blood from what was their first win against Ashwini Tanisha in the pre-quarterfinal of Thailand Masters this week.
To make it a perfect avenge, the world no. 22 Treesa and Gayatri defeated Ashwini and Tanisha in straight games (21-15, 24-22).
After an easy win in the first game, an epic fight unfolded in the second game. Ashwini, as cool as a cucumber, unleashed a few half smashes from the back, and Tanisha split their opponents' defence by two, gaining a decisive 11-5 lead at the mid-game break. Treesa and Gayatri, however, made an epic comeback before trailing again at 15-20.
But when the deciding third game looked fast approaching, the young duo held their nerves and saved seven-game points to prevail 24-22.
While Treesa held the backcourt by stomping around, hitting smashes, and retrieving everything hurled at her, Gayatri controlled the net and dominated the rally by stealing the shuttle from the net cord.
As the race for the 2024 Olympics gets intensified now, Gayatri-Treesa's bid to reboot their chance of playing in Paris received a timely boost that could potentially help them engage in a raging battle against Ashwini and Tanisha, both directly and indirectly, in the weeks to come.
While Ashwini and Tanisha are far more well-placed in their bid to make it to the Olympics, Treesa and Gayatri still have a long way to go to stand a chance to dwarf their sparring partners at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad.
In the style their match unfolded at the Thailand Masters, it suggested that Indian badminton fans will be up for an intriguing battle in the coming weeks when the race to the Paris Olympics picks up. And the players got the much-needed boost to fight for supremacy, which requires rivalry and opponents of equal strength to discover what they are capable of.