Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy have been on the wrong side of so many close encounters in the past couple of years that the pressure starts to play on their nerves. And there were occasions when the small group of fans in the Indira Gandhi stadium would have felt that the Indian women’s doubles pair was falling in the trap.
But on both occasions, Ponnappa and Reddy managed to hold their nerves and more importantly their game as they got the better of Chinese’s sixth seeds Yu Zheng/Wenmei Li 22-20, 21-19 in 47 minutes to reach the second round of the India Open Super 500 tournament on Tuesday.
While the world No 23 pair had to save a game point in the first game after leading 18-16 and then allowed the Chinese to come back from 17-14 and 19-17 deficit to level scores at 19-19 before clinching the next two points and the match as a loud shout from the spectators’s gallery aided Sikki to make the line call on match point.
But it is probably the “black box” effect that the pair has been subjected to in the evening sessions for the past one week that kept them on their toes. “We call the evening session black box because we don’t know what it is going to entail. We are not told what to expect before hand and we just have to go and complete the task,” explains Sikki.
The coaching system has changed drastically since Indonesians Flandy Limpele and Namrih Suroto joined the camp just before the Indian contingent left for the All England and Ponnappa and Sikki started working once they returned from the European tour.
“We got really good training last week. We had stretched top players but couldn’t convert it to a win, so it gives us a lot of confidence to be able to do that,” Ponnappa said.
The major difference that could be seen in their game was that they were coordinating a lot better in defence and surprised their Chinese opponents by intercepting the shuttle at the net during long rallies.
“We are working on shorter swings. Our coaches told us to open up the body and play with a short swing,” Sikki.
To work on this technical aspect, the players are made to sit on a box with their legs in the air after long training sessions and made to work on their drives and defence, helping them to play strokes with shorter swing without compromising on the punch.
The other area the coaches have been working with the pair is on consistency by improving their shot selection at the start of the point and the pair managed to raise the bar on big points.
“Our coach is a very smart player himself and tactically very good, it is a fresh change. Definitely, it will help us going forward,” said Ponnappa, while admitting that the sessions have been hectic.
While the players earlier trained in two one and a half hour sessions every day, the intensity has been suddenly raised with two sessions of three hours. Although the players were extremely tired at the end of the week, they were willing to push themselves to make the most of the sessions.
“We have actually not worked much on women’s doubles in the last couple of months, we have worked on mixed doubles. So right now the way we are training is good. We have morning session of women’s doubles and evening its mixed doubles, so we are full time devoted on both the formats,” Ponnappa added.
While qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics remains the long term goal for Ponnappa and Sikki, they want to win a few titles in 2019. “We really want to win a couple of tournaments. We have’t really played small tournaments. It has been first and second round exits and we really want to break the jinx. Today’s match has given us that confidence. We need a lot more of those matches, converting such matches to wins. Consistently entering the quarters and semis is the aim,” she added.
The draw at the India Open hasn’t been kind to them as they will face the winner of scratch Thailand pair of Pacharapun Chochuwong and Kittipak Dubthuk and Chinese qualifiers Xiaofei Chen and Chaomin Zhou in the next round and could face top seeds Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu of Indonesia.
But if they manage to maintain Tuesday’s level of play, registering a couple of more upsets isn’t out of their reach.
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