Since its competitive debut in 1992 Summer Olympics, badminton has seen 63 different countries participating in the event till the 2016 Games.
However, only 19 nations has participated at all the Olympics and India is one among those countries.
But it was only in 2016, when India finally got its representation in the men’s doubles event.
B Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri were the first men’s doubles pair from India to have participated in an Olympics.
Though the pair lost in the first two matches of the group stage, they ended their campaign with a win over 3-time All England runner-up and 2015 World Championships bronze medallists Kenichi Hayakawa and Hiroyaki Endo of Japan.
They are now the highest ranked Indian pair in men’s doubles and are one of the three teams that will represent the country in the World Badminton Championships (BWC) starting on 21 August in Glasgow.
“Whatever we have achieved and done in the Superseries, Grand Prix Gold level can be forgotten. But things like the Olympics and BWC will be remembered forever,” said Sumeeth Reddy in an interview to Firstpost.
India’s most experienced men’s doubles pair at the BWC have had a particularly injury-riddled 2017. While Sumeeth had an issue with his knee, Attri was sidelined with an ankle injury.
“The last year wasn’t exactly good for the both of us. It is very annoying when you are not performing well and injury prone. However, I think we are in a good shape and in decent form right now,” said Manu Attri to Firstpost.
The Reddy-Attri pair have never won a medal at the World Championships and expectations riding on them is pretty high.
It is a high-pressure situation for the 2017 Lagos International Challenge champions and both players seem to have contrasting approaches towards it.
While Attri believes the pressure is to overcome the annoyance of inconsistencies and injuries, Sumeeth looks at it a bit differently.
“There is definitely pressure about our performance in the bigger events. The success of the singles players is also a factor. The results that matter is increasingly becoming the performances in the Superseries, World Championships and Olympics.”
In their third World Championships, the duo are hopeful of overcoming the ghosts of an injured past and are training with focus on keeping their fitness at the highest level.
With the arrival of Malaysia’s Tan Kim Her as the doubles coach, there has been a major upheaval in the system and partial shifting of the spotlight from the singles division to the doubles.
Tan has been instrumental in the success of the younger doubles pair like World No 38 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty and the junior doubles teams. His mix and match approach has also paid rich dividends in the mixed doubles.
But, when it came to Attri-Reddy, their ideas and approach didn’t match with that of the Malaysian coach.
“Our game is of a European style and not Asian. We like to keep the shuttle down and most of the time we work on our drives, smashes and drivels.
With Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand), we improved a lot, because he made us work on our strengths. Tan is a hard-working coach, but he works on the Asian style and it doesn’t suit us,” said Meerut-born Attri.
While Sumeeth acknowledged Tan’s efforts to improve their all-round game where they can play all the strokes, he conceded that this approach didn’t quite work for them.
“I think sticking to the same game but with better speed, better power and improved quality can actually provide us with results. With Tan, the competitive spirit has increased. We have not had an off-day in the past 20 days,” said Sumeeth .
However both these players agree that Tan’s work in the mixed doubles and in the junior level has been really effective.
The duo’s European style of playing is based on a ‘no-lob’game, where Sumeeth plays near the net while Attri takes care of the backcourt.
With Attri’s injury woes finally behind him, he feels that his present fitness level gives him the confidence to cover the full court if needed rather than restricting his movements to avoid aggravating his injury.
Though the year has been a mixed bag for the Indian pair, recent successes in the Canada and US Open has given them good confidence. Their performance in those matches boasted of good coordination and rhythm. The stroke-making and movements on the court has improved.
Their run in the US Open has also proved to them that their ‘no-lob’ game which could have limited the range of the Indian shuttlers is actually effective.
An improved training regimen keeping in mind the magnitude of the event and the prospective opponents has also held them in good stead ahead of the BWC.
The World Badminton Championships, starting on 21 August will see the 2016 Canada Open winners take on the Korean pair of Chung Eui Seok and Kim Duk Young.
Since they first paired in 2012, Attri and Reddy have faced most of the top-20 players with varying levels of success and if they win their first round against the relatively inexperienced Koreans, they will next face the fifth seeded Malaysian pair of Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong.
With their focus, dedication and strategies peaking at the right moment, India might be on course to finally win the elusive men’s doubles medal at the World Championships.
Attri is confident of returning with one if they deliver their best in one of the grandest stages of badminton.
“I believe we are in our pre-Olympics form and we are playing and practicing well. I know it won’t be easy but we will definitely do our best.”
Though their confidence seems to be on an upsurge, they have been handed a tough draw and winning a medal will be an uphill task.
Finally injury-free and raring to go for the medal at the BWC, the duo are also realistic about their chances.
“Every round is an important round. Every round is a final,” said Sumeeth .
India’s 28-year medal drought in the World Badminton Championships was brought to an end by the women’s doubles team of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappathe when they won the bronze medal in 2011 edition.
However, the men’s doubles division of Indian badminton has always been hiding in the shadows waiting for their opportunity under the sun.
Looking at the number of doubles pairs participating in this year’s event, it is clear that the doubles division has stopped waiting and has decided to seize the limited opportunities in offer to shine at the global level.
Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri are the torch-bearers of the men’s doubles division and now, the onus is on them to guide the other teams by experience and example.
There cannot be a better place to announce India’s arrival in the doubles division of world badminton than the BWC in Glasgow.
As Sumeeth said, “It is always the Sudirman Cup, Olympics and BWC that are always treated special. BWC is one of the biggest platforms.”
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2017 18:58 PM