Young pair Treesa Jolly, Gayatri Gopichand bring depth in doubles
A pair of 19-year-olds have gone on a stunning run of form this year, giving India a second world-class women's doubles pair.
What suddenly clicked to solve India's problem of lack of depth in women's doubles? Treesa Jolly, one half of the prodigious pair which created history by reaching the semis of the All England Open earlier this year and then won the Commonwealth Games bronze medal, had a simple answer.
"Gayatri Gopichand did not play doubles before the lockdown," the 19-year-old from Kerala said.
Back in 2019, speaking about the lack of depth in women's doubles in the country, Sikki Reddy had said that she and Ashwini Ponappa were forced to practise with the male players and that this was something that put them at a disadvantage in international competitions.
But not any more. The pair of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand have been surging up the rankings with their giant-killing run this year. The two 19-year-olds are now ranked 35 in the world, quickly catching up with the 27th-ranked Ashwini and Sikki. When they had pulled off their All England Open heist in March this year, they had been ranked 56th.
"Ashwini Ponappa and Jwala Gutta are the original idols for women's doubles in our country. It gives us a lot of confidence to practise with Ashwini and Sikki as a pair. Even off the court, there's such a lot to learn from them," Jolly told The Bridge.
But the best part of being part of this Indian team, which has a mix of youth and experience, is that there is an atmosphere of fun and no pressure of expectations, she added.
"What sets us apart as a pair is that we have fun on the court. It's a privilege to be able to see experienced players like Ashwini Ponappa and HS Prannoy from up close. The effort that they put into preparing for a match is unbelievable. We are just watching and learning from them."
Eyes on top 10 rank, Paris Olympics
Experience of dealing with tough situations is not yet their forte. Treesa and Gayatri capitulated from a 17-12 lead in the second game in their Japan Open Super 750 match to crash out in the Round of 32 last week. But what makes them an unstoppable force is their perfect understanding of roles.
"I attack from the back court with my smashes, Gayatri plays at the net. The main thing in a doubles pair is understanding. We share a god bond off the court too, which helps us in playing the crucial points," said Jolly, a GoSports Foundation athlete.
Two years ago, when a starry-eyed Treesa Jolly had walked into the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad, she was put into the same batch as Pullela Gopichand's daughter Gayatri. The two shared an easy friendship that comes with being part of the same batch, but neither knew then that soon they would be roommates on tour with the senior Indian team.
"The understanding between us has grown by leaps this year. Practising with seniors has also helped me improve my attack, my drives and our court coverage," she said on what they have learnt this year.
Increasing their fitness levels to match the standards required at the senior level - matches which last more than an hour, rallies which go on for 50 shuttles - is what the young duo have their eyes on for now.
Their ambition for the near future remains to break into the top 10 and ensure qualification to the Paris Olympics.