After an ordinary 2021, Sikki Reddy determined to make amends at All England Open and Commonwealth Games

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A file image of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy.

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After an ordinary 2021, Sikki Reddy determined to make amends at All England Open and Commonwealth Games

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Madhav Agarwal

03/08/2022

It comes as little or no surprise that doubles shuttlers in India don't really have the same stature as their singles counterparts, for reasons galore; but that doesn't take away from them, what they have been able to achieve for the country over the years and still continue to do so.

When one talks of doubles badminton, the first team that comes to mind is Jwala Gutta and V Diju, whose feats have not been repeated by any other mixed doubles pair in India. The former world no.6 team managed to reach the summit clash of the World Superseries Final, losing out to Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark. 

Then, of course, who can forget Gutta's exploits with Ashwini Ponnappa, the former world no.10 women's doubles team, in the 2011 edition of the World Championship, where they won the bronze medal after beating Vita Marrisa and Nadya Melati of Indonesia in the quarters. To date, they are the only pair across categories, to bag a medal for the country at the prestigious event.

The fortunes of doubles badminton in the country should have only soared from there on, but the progress has been slow, and not up to the mark. As of March 2022, there is only one pair in the top 10 -- Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, while Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy are at the 19th spot in women's doubles.

Once again, what really led to this situation in the doubles, is a debate for a later date, but for now, Sikki, who managed to reach as high as world no.13 in women's doubles, is looking to bring glory to the nation by winning medals at the prestigious All England Championship, and later at the Commonwealth Games. Solidly prepared for the challenges ahead, the team does see themselves winning some big medals this year. 

"We got a good one month of training here in Hyderabad before leaving for the tournaments, and the results should be good too. We have put a lot of focus into our fitness and some special training sessions with the coaches. We had good quality feeding sessions with the junior boys every day, which also helped up this time; so all in all it was a productive month for the team," Sikki told SportsCafe in an exclusive interaction. 

But, as is always the case, it is easier said than done. 2021 wasn't particularly the best of years for the duo, who made five Round-of-32 exits in the year, and as many Round-of-16s. The only considerable success which came their way was at Denmark Masters, where they made it to the finals. As per Sikki though, what needs to be taken into account is that they were short on match practice, as the entire 2020 season was lost to Covid-19.  

"I think, looking back, we had a satisfactory Indonesia leg, where we had a good couple of matches and made it to the Tour Finals as well. Talking specifically about the tournaments we lost early, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that we were playing after a year or so after Covid. That too we started off playing the world no.2 Korean pair, and could have done a little better anyway. But all the top-20 teams in the world present that kind of a challenge on any given day and we need to be ready for that. 

"Coming into Denmark Masters we didn't have any match practice at all, and we just wanted to give it our best shot. Luckily, whatever we had trained for in the lockdown, with limited facilities, was put to good use. We had some good matches in the initial rounds, and the final was a close affair too. I think we should have won that one. But as is evident with the results, there is the scope of much improvement."

Also, it would be unfair to judge Sikki and Ashwini's performance in the last couple of years, where the doubles team has seen as many as three foreign coaches, with none of them sticking around. After Malaysian Tan Kim Her left in 2019, Indonesian Flandy Limpele was appointed, who left before the completion of his tenure.

Post that Danish Mathian Boe also couldn't stay around much, to help the players. Since then, it is coach Vijaydeep Singh and Miftah Farid, who have been training with the team. If this is not enough, there are rumors of coach Tan joining the Indian setup again, sometime in April. But how are the players supposed to adjust to such frequent changes in the coaching staff?

"I mean, all the coaches after Tan were good too. We had Mathias Boe for a certain time...we reached the All England quarters there. Actually, we did learn a few new things under Boe, since this was the first time we had a European coach, and his coaching method was totally different. We would focus on speed and agility, quality of feeding; in short, the focus was on committing a lot less unforced errors. So the biggest takeaway from him would be, better control I'd say. But the problem was the longevity of these coaches. I think had these coaches stayed on, we would have continued to improve, but that wasn't the case," Sikki added.

In any case, if at all coach Tan is making a return now, it could be in the best interest of the top women's doubles team now. Sikki too realises that. "I'm ecstatic that coach Tan is coming back to coach us. If you look back, our partnership started under him, and we had great results to show back then. When we had started out the last time, within one year so he did wonders with my teams. Jerry and I, and Ashwini too, reached the top-15 in mixed doubles and women's doubles. So, looking forward to that partnership with Tan again," she concluded. 

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