It was the autumn of 2010. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa created history at the Delhi Commonwealth Games by bringing home India’s first ever doubles gold medal.
A 16-year-old girl watched that priceless moment unfold on the television, filled with immense pride. Inspired by their feat, the girl would dream of winning a medal for India at the Commonwealth Games, just like Gutta and Ponnappa did.
Eight years later, she is one step closer to her dream as she gets to partner none other than Ponnappa at Gold Coast.
For Sikki Reddy, this has been a long wait. Ever since witnessing that historic moment, the southpaw has made a meteoric rise in the doubles circuit and is now a part of India’s No. 1 women’s doubles as well as mixed doubles pairs. She has surged into the top 15 of the world rankings in mixed doubles and the top 25 in women’s doubles.
Her speed, athleticism, sharpness and reflexes on the court have been lauded and have brought her many trophies, with the Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold mixed doubles title being the biggest of them all.
Along with Pranaav Jerry Chopra, she made it to the semi-finals of the 2017 Japan Open Superseries, six years after the pair of Gutta and V Diju reached the last-four stage at the China Masters. Reddy has become a force to reckon with in India’s doubles, that so often gets overshadowed by the singles achievements.
Along with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, the 24-year-old Reddy is a part of a young brigade that has very much bolstered the doubles badminton in the country and is raising legitimate hopes of winning medals.
Despite her success on the BWF circuit, she hasn’t forgotten about that day in 2010, that would go on to mean so much to her. It was the day that sparked off a wish to win a medal for India and ever since then, it has been a burning desire within.
“I remember that day. I watched their match on the television,” recalls Reddy in an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda before leaving for Australia.
“It was a proud moment. India had never won the gold in doubles before. So that was really inspiring for me. Even in the next Commonwealth Games, they were in the final, but lost after having a lead. It was still good seeing them playing and that moment was big.
“We all have a lot to learn from Jwala. If the juniors get nervous, she showed how to take the charge and be brave on the court.
“For eight years, I am dreaming for this Commonwealth Games. Let’s be practical. We have more chances of winning medals at the Commonwealth Games. The Olympics selection is really based on the rankings and is far tougher to get through. So, my dream was always to win a Commonwealth medal for my country.”
Having Ponnappa -- one of the architects of that glory -- by her side, means a lot to her. In her first outing at the senior Commonwealth Games, she simply could not have asked for a partner better than Ashwini, who already has a gold and a silver medal in women’s doubles to her credit.
The 28-year-old has been lending her all her expertise and knows how to calm her down when she gets nervous, just like an older sister.
“It’s good having Ashwini by my side. This is my first Commonwealth Games seniors. I don’t have any pressure and just want to go and give my best, and enjoy the atmosphere.
“Ashwini guides really well and tells me how we should be before a match. She boosts me up. If I am ever nervous, she does the talking and gives me the confidence.”
Focussing on mental toughness
Having spent quite a few years in the top tier of the sport, Sikki knows how much difference mental fortitude can make. It’s all mind games at the highest level and for that, remaining mentally strong is absolutely imperative.
Before they left for Gold Coast, the doubles coach Tan Kim Her had been relentlessly emphasizing on this aspect of the game. The Malaysian had been conducting sessions to boost them up and inject into their minds the importance of a positive body language.
“Every day in the training sessions, Tan Sir boosts up with good speeches like, ‘What is the difference between you people and other players in the world? It’s nothing related to your game, it’s in the mental part. Just believe in yourself and remember what you are playing for. Even if you don’t play good, you needn’t show that to the opponents. Keep your head high. If it doesn’t work out, don’t give up,’” reveals Sikki.
Confident of mixed team gold
India is overall a lot more potent force than what it was four years ago in Glasgow. No longer is India’s success dependent only on Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. Kidambi Srikanth’s exploits last year and the good results in doubles validate that.
And that is the reason why, Sikki is very optimistic of India grabbing the prized gold in mixed team event.
“I think we can win the gold in the mixed team event. I have 100% confidence in that. We have Srikanth in men’s singles, Sindhu and Saina in women’s singles, Satwik and Chirag are doing good in men’s doubles, Ashwini and I are there in women’s doubles. Compared to the last time, this time India has a stronger team in all the events.
“This time, we don’t have to depend only on Sindhu or Saina for the points. This time, everyone can contribute.”
On being quizzed about her own medal-winning chances in the two categories that she will be participating in, Sikki felt that she and Ponnappa are genuine contenders in the women’s doubles section.
“In women’s doubles, I believe there are three good pairs -- one from Australia, one from Malaysia and one from England. All three have very different styles of play. So, good matches are expected and it will be fun to see who is performing well on that day.
“In mixed doubles, it’s going to be tougher, I feel, because all the countries have 2-3 pairs of mixed doubles pairs. For example, England has three pairs, Malaysia has two pairs. Australians also have two pairs, they are also not bad. It’s their home tournament so the confidence will be higher.”
Needs more communication with Chopra
She did downplay her chances in mixed doubles but it was, interestingly, in that particular category that she made a better start to the year in, out of the two events that she regularly competes in. She and Chopra reached the semi-finals at the India Open where their title defence came to an end.
However, the ever-improving Reddy isn’t satisfied. They lost precious time last year due to Chopra sustaining injuries and the lack of match play got reflected in their performances so far this year.
She underlines the fact that they need better communication on the court, which would be the springboard to consistency and more success for the two. The brutally honest Sikki even had no qualms about admitting that her style of play in women’s doubles is clashing with that of mixed doubles and she needs more time and patience to sort it out and find a way.
“I think we need to become a little bit stronger. I think if you closely observe, rarely do the top players play in both the disciplines -- women’s doubles and mixed doubles. So, that little bit of miscommunication is happening due to playing two events.
“After the All England Open, we came back and discussed with the coach what corrections can be done. I think we have to play some more tournaments to get to know how it will be because we missed so many tournaments due to Jerry’s injury. We almost missed 6-7 tournaments and Jerry couldn’t even play the PBL matches, which actually give a lot of confidence and lot of match exposure.
“We are really looking forward to the rest of the season to see how we can perform and next year we hope to be consistent.
“The style of women’s doubles play and that of mixed doubles are totally different. I really need to be more alert and we have to talk before the match about our opponents. These little things can make so much difference.”
Sport runs in her blood
Being the daughter of a national volleyball player, the Warangal-born, Hyderabad-raised Sikki and sports have had an inextricable bond all her life. It was her father, who introduced her to badminton on a friend’s insistence.
While her initial few years revolved around volleyball and playing various kinds of sports with other kids in summer, it was around the age of eight that she got her first proper training in badminton at a summer camp.
Her exceptional talent soon came to their notice and after sharpening her skills there for a couple of years, she got to know about the 2001 All England Open champion Pullela Gopichand setting up an academy.
“Every summer, my father would make us play a sport and every day in the apartment, all the children would gather and he would make us play games like dodgeball. He always encouraged us to play sports. I used to play volleyball first as my father was a national volleyball player.
“I was around eight years when one of my father’s friends asked him to introduce me to a badminton summer camp. Around 200 people participated in a tournament that was held there and I won it. The coaches there spotted my talent and skills and told my father to send me there regularly.
“For a couple of years I played there and Gopi Sir was putting up an academy at that time and was scouting for talent. That’s how I got selected in his academy.”
The batch of Sikki, Sumeeth Reddy and Sai Praneeth had their initial classes at the Gachibowli Stadium while Gopichand’s academy was still under construction. For Reddy, it wasn’t easy as she had to travel nearly 100kms a day for training. But she never gave up for, by then, she had completely fallen in love with the sport.
“In 2005-06, the academy was in construction and Sir used to coach us at the Gachibowli Stadium and I had to travel around 100kms a day for that. Then I played at the Youth Commonwealth Games in 2008. From 2009, we are fully at the academy,” recounts Reddy, fondly remembering those days.
It was that sheer passion for badminton, along with a good amount of diligence and perseverance, that has taken her this far. Today, she knows how much tireless effort goes into bringing laurels for the country.
As Sikki Reddy embarks on a Gold Coast medal hunt, one thing is absolutely certain -- she will leave no stone unturned to fulfill the dream that she dreamt as a 16-year-old.