There were two streaks of impressive comebacks for Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly in their second-round win against Ashwini Ponnappa and Tanisha Crasto at the Thailand Masters Super 300 in Bangkok on Thursday.
After taking the first game, the pair of 20-year-olds was trailing 5-11 in Game 2 as Ashwini and Tanisha picked up their quality. Soon after, they were trailing 15-20 and a deciding Game 3 was imminent.
But on both occasions, Gayatri-Treesa held their nerves to see out their training partners in an impressive 21-15, 24-22 win to reach the quarterfinals.
What a fightback!
Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly trailed 5-11 and then faced five game points at 15-20. But Gayatri steps up big time as the youngsters save 7 game points to take this match in straight games. Good win! pic.twitter.com/s5ZFBcSdlN
— Vinayakk (@vinayakkm) February 1, 2024
The trigger for both comebacks was Gayatri at the net. At 5-11 after the mid-game interval, she nailed a service return as the shuttle flew just wide of Tanisha and drew an error from Ashwini at the back. At 15-20, Gayatri once again played a superb point from the frontcourt, taking the initiative to intercept the shuttle early to control the rally and eventually forcing an error from the other side of the net.
In those two moments, Gayatri showed why she is the perfect foil at the net for Treesa, the enforcer from the backcourt, as the youngsters prevailed over 40 minutes of see-saw badminton. With Tanisha and Ashwini currently leading the race for India’s slot in women’s doubles at the Paris Olympics, Gayatri-Treesa received a timely boost that could help them potentially reclaim that spot in the weeks to come.
There is a long way to go, of course, but having struggled for form in the latter half of 2023, Treesa and Gayatri had a point to prove in Bangkok. An injury to Gayatri meant they barely played in the closing stages of last season, suffering a quarterfinal exit at the Syed Modi International in Lucknow at the hands of Tanisha and Ashwini. Last year had started well for them, as they pulled off some huge wins at the Badminton Asia Team Championships and their favourite event on tour, the All England Open. But in the Race to Paris, Ashwini and Tanisha made a big move with their stellar run in the home leg.
That Gayatri was dominant in the closing stages of this crucial match augurs well for the pair with not long left in the qualification phase. In the seven game points they saved, Gayatri hit three winners and was also the finisher when they had their first match point, once again taking charge at the net. Treesa’s smashes are usually a big weapon for this pair in closing out points, while Gayatri is seen as the steady hand in longer rallies. But here, the roles were reversed as the latter took charge when it looked all but certain that Ashwini-Tanisha were taking this match the distance.
Tough act to follow
It’s not quite straightforward taking up a sport as a young athlete when one’s parent is a bona fide legend. There are enough examples of this across the sporting world. Gayatri, daughter of one of India’s greatest shuttlers and coaches in Pullela Gopichand, must know this quite well and that tag has often followed her.
In her match-winning display in Bangkok, she showed that she was back to somewhere close to her best and it adds more intrigue to how the rest of the Paris qualification race pans out.
Next, the sixth seeds will be up against fourth seeds Febriana Dwipuji Kusuma and Amallia Cahaya Pratiwi of Indonesia as they eye a spot in the semifinals and, possibly, beyond.
Another week, another frustrating defeat for Srikanth Kidambi. Fought back well to force the decider, but again, few too many errors in the backend of the match. Super win for Mithun, his 2nd on tour vs Sri. pic.twitter.com/wZm0Tgiqcl
— Vinayakk (@vinayakkm) February 1, 2024
While Treesa and Gayatri breathed some life back into their Olympic qualification, there was more disappointment for Kidambi Srikanth. The former world No.1 was defeated by Mithun Manjunath in a three-game affair to end his Asian leg events without a quarterfinal appearance.
His win against Jonatan Christie in Malaysia to start his season offered hope that there was a turnaround looming for Srikanth, especially with Lakshya Sen’s dip in form and confidence. The second men’s singles spot for India in Paris is dependent largely on one of these two men seizing some initiative, but Srikanth suffered another early exit.
Mithun, who entered the match with a 1-0 head-to-head record against Srikanth on the international circuit, started superbly to take the opening game. The veteran then bounced back to largely control the second. But in the decider, Srikanth was constantly playing catch up and paid the price, once again, for his unforced errors. Mithun, ranked 63 in the world, pulled off an impressive 21-9, 13-21, 21-17 win in 54 minutes. The former national champion will play Netherlands’ Mark Caljouw in the last-eight round.
Mithun is the last Indian standing in men’s singles after qualifier S Sankar Muthusamy Subramanian lost 9-21, 11-21 to fellow leftie Chinese Taipei’s Chun-Yi Lin.
In women’s singles, there will be a rare quarterfinal appearance at an international World Tour event by an Indian not named PV Sindhu or Saina Nehwal. Ashmita Chaliha, the left-hander from Assam, registered a hard-fought three-game win against veteran Chinese Taipei shuttler Pai Yu Po 21-12, 15-21, 21-17.
Chaliha, in her first quarterfinal at the World Tour since January 2022 at the Odisha Open, will face Ester Nurumi Tri Wardoyo of Indonesia next.
Earlier, Malvika Bansod was left to rue her inability to close the opening game as she lost 22-24, 7-21 to local favourite Busanan Ongbamrungphan.