All England Open 2022: Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly take a famous victory

A day earlier, Treesa Jolly was on the other side of the court against her attacking and jumping model, Indonesian Olympic champion Arpriyani Rahayu. And within 24 hours, she took over the striker role from her women’s doubles hero at the All England and rocked Korean World Championship silver medalists Lee Sohee – Shin Seungchuan.

Gayatri Gopichand has always carried instinctive reflexes to the net – she loves the rhythm of that eyeball-to-eyeball position and relishes the confrontation while keeping her composure. Delighted just two days ago to secure an entry into All England, she looked the part perfectly, keeping her composure and switching serves on a historic day for India’s women’s doubles at All England.

The pair of 19-year-olds attacked the world No. 2 Koreans to claim a stunning 14-21, 22-20, 21-15 victory, making it Friday’s biggest blockbuster in Birmingham.

The Indians trailed 18-20 in the second after defensive errors in the opener led the Koreans to believe that the 21-14 margin would be the overall tone and trend of this quarter-final. Treesa-Gayatri had other plans. The Koreans should have known, after the Indian teenagers came back from 12 to 18 in their first round. But lightning should not strike twice. Little did they know, Gayatri was holding Wonder Woman’s strong bracers at the net, and Treesa was carrying Thor’s hammer Mjolnir from behind.

With all the lifts coming to the middle of the court from this side of the court drift, the Indians launched an all-out attack. The defensive errors from the first set had piled up because the smashes were coming hard from that end and the defense was becoming untenable. The lessons were learned quickly. Then Treesa took a brave punt on a back serve that threw the Koreans out.

Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly in action. (Special arrangement)

Smashes rained on the next three points, with the pace visibly picking up as the Indians tied at 22-20 in the second.

While Treesa’s explosive moves from the back, her jump and kick hitting the shuttle high and with a sting, in addition to mixing it with drops, left Korean toes tangled between the front and back, Gayatri expertly set it up, during the net interception. As the game progressed, her offensive charges at the net also increased, which meant the Koreans had her on both sides, at every possible length. And constantly.

“We didn’t think much at that time. Just one more point,” Treesa recalls forcing the decision maker.

In the third, the Indians now bolstered their confidence, refused to retreat into their unforeseen shell or return to the median, and pushed the Koreans further back by not backing down. Treesa flew out for her smashes, but shuffled it so delicately through the air that the Koreans just couldn’t get a counter up.

Gayatri’s positional sense and clever defensive reflexes garnered the other half of the points as she happily backed off and took on attacking roles unflinchingly. The Indians froze the Koreans at 11-8 and then sprinted to the finish afterwards as the Top 5 opponents faded away in a bit of a surprise.

It was great doubles play at work, but also two separate singles matches from the junior days, ready to cover the whole court if needed.

EARLY STARTS

Gayatri Gopichand, daughter of Pullela Gopichand and Sydney Olympian doubles shuttle PVV Laxmi, decided a few seasons ago that she wanted to be successful in doubles, despite doing reasonably well in singles. Her parents were stunned, but the girl was determined. She loved gathering the net, had a feel for that role, and caught the net in a way that can’t be taught. In this respect, she was her own person.

Once in doubles, the available crop of 4 players was split into net and fullback pairs, and Treesa Jolly, also 19, was paired with Gayatri. India boasts two jump smashers in the junior doubles ranks – Tanisha Crasto who also plays in mixed, and Treesa. The Kannur Kerala teenager who has been training in Hyderabad for quite some time now, combined with the skillful net player, and the two got down to business.

Gayatri is known for listening and absorbing instructions like a sponge, then using her own intellect to improvise. Treesa had a natural flair for attack, strong legs, and picked the jump smash on her own. “I don’t know how it happened, maybe it’s natural, but the coaches encouraged it,” she said after the match. But Indonesian Rahayu, who wobbled off the pitch playing against the Indians, had been a huge icon to fly away and walk away.

“They are always calm and composed. I never saw either of them panicking,” says Indian doubles coach Arun Vishnu. “Just always dedicated to training and nothing to complain about,” he adds. “What they do best is go on the offensive outright.”

What Hyderabad coaches have been working on is the invisible defence. “We let them decide their attack. But 60-70% of the work we do with them is on defence. And service and reception. Just 20-30% attack. Once they can keep the shuttle in the center, we know, they will attack freely.

It’s not just about a compact defense, but how relaxed the two are in quick exchanges, not seeing defense as a burden. The Indians barely lost any points in defense against the Olympic champions.

The duo hadn’t believed their luck when they secured a place in the All England promoted from reserve. Then they beat the Indian Open champions, and when Rahayu limped off, the Indians were in the quarters – albeit after leading in set 2 and remaining tied in set 1. “I didn’t even think we would even get an entry for this tournament first of all, but the moment we did, we were happy to be able to play with the best in the world,” Gayatri told BWF.

The All England takes place in a large arena, with slow shuttles and insane physical demands, and the Koreans can sometimes seem completely unbreakable. The Indians, however, took the sting out of whimsical opponents with their fearless attack and nerveless defense, matching them blow to blow.

Women’s doubles players typically strike their strides at 23/24, so both have time to build up their power and punch in their shots. When the best Japanese and Chinese begin to open the field, the Indians will have an almighty fight on their hands. But for today, they have reached the All England semi-finals.

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