It is often said that scratch pairs are the most dangerous type in badminton since you never know what to expect from them. However, not even MR Arjun and B Sumeeth Reddy would have expected how far they would go in their first tournament together.
Arjun and Sumeeth are in the final of the Tata Open India International Challenge. The fact that even they did not expect to reach the title clash is clear considering Arjun had booked his flight ticket out of Mumbai on Sunday, the day of the final.
“We came here primarily to play mixed doubles since both of us have new partners and we need to improve our ranking,” said Arjun, who started playing with K Maneesha in September. Sumeeth, meanwhile, paired up with Pooja Dandu only last month for the first time, at the Syed Modi International.
“Our initial plan was to play only mixed doubles but then coach [Tan Kim Her] said since both of you are going, why don’t you play men’s doubles together,” said Sumeeth. “He just asked us to chill and play.”
Both Arjun and Sumeeth lost their respective mixed doubles quarter-final matches on Friday but, to everyone’s surprise, managed to reach the men’s doubles final together. Sumeeth’s regular men’s doubles partner is Manu Attri, with whom he is ranked 26th in the world. Arjun, meanwhile, plays with Shlok Ramchandran, who is not competing in the Tata Open as he is attending his sister’s wedding.
Arjun said that he had booked his flight out of Mumbai on Sunday after having a look at the draw. He and Sumeeth were drawn against fourth seeds Chun Kang Shia and Wee Gieen Tan of Malaysia in the first round. “I thought, since it’s the first time we are playing, I didn’t know how it would go,” he said. “Then, after we won that match, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll have to change my ticket,’” he added, laughing.
Arjun and Sumeeth then went on to beat compatriots Saurabh Sharma/Rohan Kapoor and Thailand’s Tinn Isriyanet/Tanupat Viriyangkura en route to the final, where they will take on top seeds Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin of Malaysia.
Sumeeth and Arjun have gelled together quite well on court at the Tata Open. Both are fast-moving players and love attacking, so that has worked in their favour as well. Sumeeth revealed that he has been paired up with Arjun quite a few times in practice sessions at the national camp in Hyderabad and the two know each other’s games, so it wasn’t so difficult to coordinate and play together in a tournament.
“There are hardly six to eight doubles players practising together [at the national camp] so we keep playing together,” he said. “I know his game and he knows mine. We don’t talk too much, we just play our game like we do in practice. It wasn’t a do-or-die situation for us.”
Sumeeth, however, does not think that winning the title with Arjun would be a huge surprise. “Manu and I have started beating Olympic gold medallists,” he said. “I don’t think this is like a surprise to me. Losing would be a surprise.”
He added, “If we win the Tata Open also, the points won’t be counted in our ranking. I only came here because I wanted to play mixed doubles. I won’t get entry in Superseries directly with a new partner.”
While Sumeeth’s schedule wasn’t affected too much by reaching the final of the Tata Open, the same can’t be said about Arjun. Sumeeth will now take a break before the Premier Badminton League later this month, but Arjun is participating in two All India Senior Ranking Tournaments in Kurnool and Bengaluru over the next two weeks.
“I have to play the mixed doubles qualifiers in Kurnool, which start on Tuesday,” he said. “Now, I have to change my flight to Hyderabad to Monday, from where I will travel by road for three hours to Kurnool. I will reach Kurnool only late Monday evening. The matches begin Tuesday morning,” he added, laughing.
All that effort might well be worth it if Arjun and Sumeeth manage to bag the title in their first tournament together.