Subhankar Dey’s movements and strokes as the match progresses often have a desperate feel to them, it is almost as if he is engaged in a fight for survival. The 25-year-old is willing to throw himself around to return the shuttle which is not in his reach and run all over the court till his lungs burst to just keep the bird in play till the opponent finds another gear to overpower him.
Mind you, Dey doesn’t have the classic toss-drop game with pinpoint precision that a certain Abhinn Shyam Gupta displayed a decade and half ago. He is well aware of his limitations and more than makes up for them with a bundle of energy that feeds off his willpower and never-say-die attitude.
All those qualities were on display on Wednesday at the Indira Gandhi stadium when the SaarLorLux Open champion fought back from a 12-19 deficit in the second game, saved a match point and then went on to beat world number 9 Tommy Sugiarto 14-21, 22-20, 21-11 in an hour and 18 minutes to reach the second round of the India Open Super 500 badminton tournament.
The point that made it 19-19 in the second game probably summed up the entire match as a rally that went over 40 shots saw Dey scamper to all four corners of the court as Sugiarto controlled the proceedings, dived at least half a dozen times and when the Indonesian showed signs of fatigue, had the presence of mind to play a cross court drop which his opponent did not even bother attempting to return.
This was the pattern of the match as well as Sugiarto dominated the proceedings in the opening game and looked like he would run away with the match as he could always manage to find the winner at the end of some big rallies.
But all that changed at 12-19 once Dey new that he did not have a choice but chase every shuttle as if his life depended on it and found a way back.
“I just told myself to play as if they were the last 11 points I’ll ever play,” said Dey, whose entire journey as a badminton player has been a struggle for survival.
The 25-year-old ran away from his home in Kolkata as he wanted to pursue the sport instead of doing a day job and hoped academies across the country looking for quick results and even managed to enrage a few coaches with his approach.
But the turn around came once Dey moved to Denmark to play for Greve Strands Club in Copenhagen and the improved maturity and fitness levels have seen him go from strength to strength.
The world number 44 has become a lot more confident about his game and has picked up the knack of studying his opponent’s games through You Tube videos in the absence of any traveling coach or support staff.
Even in New Delhi, he has been staying in a hotel in Daryaganj as he is not part of the India squad despite being ranked in top 50. Thankfully during the match against Sugiarto, he had the benefit of chief national coach Pullela Gopichand giving him inputs when under pressure.
“I travel to most tournaments alone, but having him there helped me a lot as he knows my capability,” the shuttler said.
But it is his own understanding about his capabilities that have seen a turn around in his career. While 2018 saw him win the prestigious SaarLorLux Open by defeating the likes of Chinese star Lin Dan among others, he has already pushed Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and reigning Olympic champion Chen Long in 2019 and got the better of Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie in the Swiss Open two weeks ago.
But this approach takes a lot out of Dey’s body and he has been working a lot more in the gymnasium after on-court training to prepare himself physically for the grind. It also helps that his body has a natural tendency to recover faster and pain killers do the rest of the job. “I don’t have a personal physio. At tournaments such as the India Open or where the Indian team assembles, I get their expert services. On most other occasions, I just take a painkiller.”
However, even he knows that he will have to find ways to take care of that body better as getting bruised and battered after every match would hurt the longevity of his career.
Though without a coach or physio on the tour, Dey has figured out a way to recover from such bruising matches to fight another day and go deeper in the tournament and is slowly but surely learning the art of “winning ugly” propagated by tennis coach Brad Gilbert.
Against Sugiarto, there were a couple of points which Dey won by quickly anticipating what his opponent would do in the middle of a rally as it was clear that the Indonesian was tired and looking for ways to finish the points early.
On Wednesday, Dey will take on Wang Tzu Ying in an attempt to reach his first quarter-final at the India Open and the game plan against the tall and steady Chinese Taipei player would once again revolve around keeping the shuttle in play for as long as possible.
The approach may not please too many the purists but Dey does get the spectators involved as he get pumped up with every point he wins and every match he manages to survive.
The 25-year-old has thrived on adversity to reach this far and his opponents know that he isn’t going to give up as long as he has the energy to chase down another shuttle. In its own way that quality; that indomitable spirit alone makes him a feared opponent.