National champions Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat aiming to become India’s best women’s doubles pair

Shikha Gautam (left) and K. Ashwini Bhat
Shikha Gautam (left) and K. Ashwini Bhat
Suhas Nayse

Shikha Gautam and K. Ashwini Bhat will never forget February 16, 2019. The young Karnataka duo surprised everyone by becoming the women’s doubles national champions in Guwahati.

The unseeded pair of Shikha Gautam and K Ashwini Bhat stunned top seeds Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram with scores of 21-16, 22-20 to win their maiden title on the concluding day of the 83rd Senior National Badminton Championship.

Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat raised the bar and played brilliantly throughout the tournament to become national champions. The summit clash against the higher-ranked and Indian doubles pair of J Meghana and Poorvisha Ram was a fascinating battle of youth versus experience.

Finally, youth prevailed over the experienced campaigners and suddenly Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat became the talk of the badminton fraternity.

The triumph at the Guwahati Nationals marked a turning point in the careers of Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat. They oozed confidence and notched up several inspiring performances which established themselves as one of the best women’s doubles pair of the country.

Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat became India No. 1 in the rankings of the Badminton Association of India and have maintained their numero uno position over the last couple of years. Their performance in the international tournaments has also improved over time.

Their participation in the prestigious All England Championship earlier this year enhanced their confidence a great deal. The pair are currently placed in the 98th spot in the world rankings. They also represented the Indian squad at the Badminton Asian Team Championships held in Manila, Philippines, in 2019.

“Winning the national title at Guwahati was certainly the major landmark in our career. It gave us some instant recognition. The performance also heightened our confidence a lot. We then carried that momentum further and started performing better in the international tournaments,” said Shikha Gautam, who represents Airport Authority of India (AAI).

The 23-year-old admitted that superior performances in doubles at the national and international level forced her to leave singles and concentrate only on the women’s doubles.

“I was performing well in both singles as well as doubles. I have beaten Aakarshi Kashyap (India No. 1) and Malvika Bansod (India No. 2) in the All India Ranking tournaments. Even at the international level, I had some very good results in the singles but now I have stopped playing singles and only focusing on doing well in the doubles. We want to become India’s best doubles pair,” said Shikha.

Playing in the All England Championships was a great experience, says Shikha Gautam

In the All England Championship at Birmingham in March 2021, Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat lost in the first round against the English pair of Chloe Birch and Lauren Smith. The English duo won 21-14, 21-11 in 34 minutes.

“Although we lost in the opening round we were not too worried about the result. Playing in the main draw of the world’s best tournament was a great experience for us. We did fairly well against the higher ranked English pair. We learned so many things from that tournament. We know what we need to produce better results at the top level. That experience will definitely help us in the future,” said Ashwini Bhat, 19, the younger of the two.

They did well at the Infosys India International Challenge in November 2019 in Mumbai by reaching pre-quarters. They reached the semi-finals at the Maldives Open International Challenge in October 2019.

Ashwini Bhat and Shikha Gautam shocked fourth seeds and world No. 37 Doha Hany and Hadia Hosny of Egypt 21-13, 21-10 in the quarter-finals, which was perhaps their best result on the BWF circuit.

Shikha Gautam and K. Ashwini Bhat (right) with coach Jagdish Yadav (center)
Shikha Gautam and K. Ashwini Bhat (right) with coach Jagdish Yadav (center)

In the same month at the Polish International Series they also made it to the last-four. Ashwini Bhat and Shikha Gautam upset fourth seeds Lisa Kaminski and Hannah Pohl of Germany 21-18, 16-21, 21-17 in the quarter-finals.

However, in the semis, the Indian pair went down against second seed and world No. 26 Amalie Magelund and Freja Ravn of Denmark.

“We were playing really well in late 2019 where we achieved so many fine results. In the Belgian International Challenge in September 2019 we did well to reach the pre-quarters. We lost against top seeds Gabriela Stoeva and Stefani Stoeva of Bulgaria, who were world No. 12. We had stretched world no. 53 to three games at the Kharkiv International. We will certainly try to perform even better in the post-Covid tournaments," Shikha Gautam said.

Both Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat are targeting to qualify for the 2024 Olympics and bring home a medal for the country. They said their friendship off the court helped them gel well on the court.

“We have a very good bonding. We cover each other’s mistakes on the court with our strengths. We are aiming for the 2024 Olympics. We want to qualify and win a medal for the nation. We are prepared to work really hard to realize our dream. We want to break into the top-50 rankings by the end of the year. We are preparing to perform better in all major tournaments so that our rankings increase to top-16 by the next Olympics,” said Shikha and Ashwini.

Ashwini acknowledged the support of her parents and coaches behind her success.

“People behind my success are my parents who have sacrificed so much to support me. My mom being a practicing doctor left her job to travel with me and my dad who helps me financially. Then comes my school, Delhi Public School, Bangalore South and my college Jain University who have helped me in my academics so that I can pursue my passion.

She also mentioned the role of her former coach Vinod Kumar.

“First Vinod Kumar Sir identified my strength in doubles and he coached me. My coach Jagadish Yadav took it forward to mold me as one of the best doubles players in India. Both of them have put tremendous and timeless effort to become who I am today,” added Ashwini.

Shikha Gautam and Ashwini Bhat are also the part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) for mission Olympics 2024 and 2028 by the Sports Authority of India.

Edited by Diptanil Roy
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