Interview with Danish badminton player Mathias Boe: "Difficult for Jwala-Ashwini to win Olympic medal"
In a jolt to Indian hopes of a doubles medal at the Rio Olympics, Mathias Boe - Danish badminton player who is one of the world's leading shuttlers in the men's pairs event - has opined that India's premier women's combine of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa will find it extremely difficult to pull off the vaunted feat.
Though chances of a medal win are high from the Saina Nehwal-led singles contingent, 2011 World Championship bronze medallists Jwala-Ashwini remain the only realistic hope for India in the women's doubles.
Asked if he sees India clinching a badminton Olympic medal in doubles, the current World No.4 Dane replied: "No! In women's doubles there are way too many pairs who are better than Jwala-Ashwini. They are just below the 8-9 best pairs in the world but can definitely beat them once in a while. For them to reach the semifinals, they need to beat two top pairs... and that is something really difficult."
There are no Indian pairs in the top-25 of mixed doubles in the world. Commonwealth Games 2010 champions Jwala and Ashwini are the only Indians in women's top-25 at No.14 while compatriots Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy are the only Indians in men's top-25.
"In men's doubles, Manu and Sumeeth have been beating a lot of good pairs but they need to win 2-3 really good matches to reach the semis. It is possible because nothing is impossible in sports. If just some expert could understand and predict the results, there would be no reason to play. So of course it is possible but very difficult because competition in doubles is extremely hard," the reigning All-England champion told IANS.
The former World No.1, who won the Olympic silver with men's doubles partner Carsten Mogensen at London in 2012, said the reason why India has done very well in singles but the opposite in doubles is because of chief national coach Pullela Gopichand.
The 35-year-old, however, did not blame the 2001 All-England Open winner, averring that if he had been in Gopichand's shoes, he would have done the same.
"Gopichand is a big part of Indian badminton. He has brought India back on the map, so to speak. His passion and knowledge is mostly in singles so it is most natural to start there. If I was building up something new in a new country I would also start with men's doubles because that is where I can contribute and that's what happened in India," said Boe, who also has World Championships bronze and silver medals in his kitty.
India has so far bagged a sole Olympic medal in badminton -- a bronze by Saina at the 2012 London Games. The country has had no dearth of talent -- Prakash Padukone, Syed Modi and U. Vimal Kumar, to name a few. Besides, the future too has many a bright lining -- twice World Championship bronze medallist P.V. Sindhu, multiple Superseries winner Kidambi Srikanth and junior World No.1 Siril Verma -- though all in singles.
But Boe pointed out that "badminton is much more than just singles".
"It is definitely also about doubles. Internationally, men's doubles is very high priority along with men's singles -- the two big events in the discipline," he asserted.
The Danish shuttler feels that with time the Indian badminton doubles graph will move upwards.
"It will come with time. To be a world-class badminton player takes a lot of practice. You need to start very early, practise for many hours, need to have players who are willing to sacrifice their entire lives to reach the top... and you obviously need to have the talent," said Boe.
"It is a really long process and, like any other sport, it is not something that is done in five years... it takes generations. There is no reason why India can't produce world-class doubles players, but it will take time."
(Sandip Sikdar can be contacted at email@example.com)