At a time when the Russians have gained international recognition and mastered dozens of sports, badminton still remains an outcast. However, men’s doubles southpaws Ivan Sozonov and Vladimir Ivanov brought an entire country together after winning the prestigious All England Open in 2016. There wasn’t much fanfare when they returned to Russia with the title but since then at least the profile of the sport has improved.
The left-right combo are seven-time Russian Grand Prix champions and are known for their never-say-die attitude on the court. Despite a few concerns about their on-court pairing, the proper blend of attacking and defensive prowess remains the highlight of Sozonov and Ivanov's career so far. The pair has become an inspiration for the up-and-coming shuttlers from Europe.
Speaking to Firstpost during the ongoing Premier Badminton League (PBL), the World No 8 pair – who represent the Delhi Dashers – spoke about winning the All England Open, competition in the men's doubles and about the sport in Russia:
FP: You two became the first ever Russians to win the All England title in 2016. How was the experience?
Sozonov: That was two years ago. After this (PBL) tournament, it was the best result of our career. It’s an amazing feeling (to win). After this win, people back in Russia started to like badminton and called us for interviews. We are happy about that.
FP: Has the approach towards badminton changed in Russia after that win?
Sozonov: Not much, maybe for few months. It’s changing. Badminton in Russia is not as popular like India, but we are fighting. We want the same attention.
FP: Were you welcomed like heroes once you returned?
Sozonov: No, just like simple people who won one of the best tournaments in our sport. We were invited to some channels for video interviews or online interviews. Even before the Olympics, a lot of sports have interviews. During March and April, they started with the interviews before the Olympic Games. We don’t have much time for badminton, so no hero's welcome back.
FP: People don’t often choose badminton. Why?
Sozonov: Many people choose different sports. We have five main sports in Russia like football and hockey and many people play sports. Some people want to go to the Winter Games, as it’s a beautiful sport. In badminton you need luck.
FP: Kevin Sanjaya-Marcus Gideon or Mathias Boe-Carsten Mogensen. Your toughest opponent?
Sozonov: Both. Danish players are always strong and they’ve been playing for so many years. Also, they have been in top-five or top-three in the year. Every year they have medals at the World Championships and Olympics. They also win a few Superseries tournaments.
But the Indonesians are always strong. In the whole history of badminton, the Indonesians have been strong. Every time they produce good players. Before this (Kevin and Marcus) it was Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan. Every year we see new doubles pairs.
FP: Do you enjoy being a part of PBL?
Ivanov: Of course, it’s a big event for us. A big experience for us because we train with some of the best players in the world. We like Indian food. It’s very tasty.
FP: Talk us through your famous ‘Haka’ celebration after winning the All England. Did you actually practise it?
Sozonov: Of course! Not too many times but before the final. We tried to practise it for five to ten times. This gave us the confidence to win the final. We wanted to show the celebration.
FP: How many years has it been for you two as a men’s doubles pair?
Sozonov: Around nine years or maybe more than that. We have different roles. Vladimir plays at the back and I play at the net. I’m a bit quicker on the net and he has some good attacking smashes. I try to cover the net so that our opponents give Vladimir the chance to finish the rally.
FP: Tell us about your experience in Delhi over the years.
Sozonov: We play many times at the Siri Fort Complex. Like 10 times before, and of course it’s a good arena. The more we play here, the better we get. This is our home arena and people come to support us and it’s a pleasure.
FP: Do you get some support from the association in Russia?
Sozonov: All our trips for competitions are taken care of by the government. They have a national camp in Russia too.
FP: One of you has a liking for shooting as well…
Sozonov: Yes, it’s Vladimir. It is one of his hobbies. He likes hunting and sports shooting.
Ivanov: I participated two times in a shooting competition. Shooting to the tables. Maybe after professional career (in badminton), I’ll try.
FP: Apart from badminton, what are the other sport you like to play?
Sozonov: We can play many sports from football and indoor basketball, ice hockey and skiing. We both like watersports. Vladimir likes to snowboard. Different kinds of sports are good for us as we like it. If you have a chance to try it, we try.
FP: Which pair will rule the men’s doubles section in the future?
Ivanov: Of course, the Indonesians. Marcus Fernaldi (and Kevin Sanjaya), they are from our generation but are currently younger than us. Also, China has some good players too. The 17 to 18-year-olds who have played against us. So, China and Indonesia I think.
FP: What are your thoughts on India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy?
Ivanov: He played us and is just 17-years-old. Already goes to two quarterfinals last year and it’s a great result for him. If he plays and practises more, we might have a new badminton star.
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 13:18:51 IST