Trouble in doubles for Indian badminton
For years, Indian sports fans have had a grouse when it came to the country’s successes in tennis. We were world champions in doubles thanks to the exploits of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. Even when they split and went their own separate ways, changing partners at the same rate as some Hollywood celebs, they still continued their winning ways. Not too far behind was Bangalore boy Rohan Bopanna, who was yet another success story in the doubles arena, especially thanks to his headline friendly Indo-Pak Express pairing with Aisam Qureshi. Sania Mirza, who opted for a slightly different sort of pairing with a Pakistani than Bopanna, today stands tall as the best female tennis player that India has produced and has three Grand Slam doubles titles to her credit.
However, when it came to singles, the Indians drew a blank. Except for a couple of inspired performances from Paes in the ’90s, and the early promise shown by Sania Mirza’s powerful forehand, Indians have not done much of note in singles. Many experts professed multiple theories to explain this, like how doubles was more about touch and reflexes and less about power and stamina, and hence more suited to Indian tennis players. It carried the vague intonations of a lack of capability.
However, this is completely turned on its head when it comes to the other popular racquet sport in the country.
In badminton, especially in the post-Gopichand era, Indians have done wonderfully well in singles. Parupalli Kashyap and Kidambi Srikanth are in the top-25 in men’s singles. Saina Nehwal is in the top-10 in the women’s while PV Sindhu has had momentary stays in the top 10 at a very young age.
But when it comes to doubles, Indians have been very unsuccessful. Right now, we have no one in the top 25 in men’s doubles, women’s doubles, or the mixed doubles. There’s pretty much only one pair that is ever in the news – Ashwini Ponappa and Jwala Gutta.
Jwala Gutta appears more often on the glossy rags for her looks and off-court activities while Ashwini is featured extensively thanks to having good success in doubles with the good looks to boot.
Still though, they are the pair with the most potential, as they have shown every now and then with wins over better ranked teams. V Diju is another player who has done well for himself as a doubles player, especially when paired up with Jwala Gutta. But Jwala’s frequent run-ins with the authorities and scandals mean that she doesn’t get to play as much as she should, and both Ashwini and Diju aren’t close to being the same when paired with anyone else.
One other pair to keep an eye on are Pranav Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar, who made it to the semi-finals of the India Grand Prix Gold this year. Pradnya Gadre too has the potential as she has shown in some of her matches when paired with Ashwini in Jwala’s absence.
There clearly seems to be no dearth of talent in the country, yet attaining any amount of considerable success has proven to be quite a daunting task for our Indian pairings in the past. All of this makes one wonder if doubles players are given just as much training and overall importance as the singles players, or whether the efforts are more tilted in favour of the Sainas and the Kashyaps, and other singles players.
In any case, here’s hoping that the Indians pull up their socks in doubles this year, especially with the Asian and Commonwealth Games taking place this year. There is no reason why they shouldn’t, for the potential is there; perhaps it is just a question of the right coaching and guidance to usher them onto the path of success.