At their best, Gayatri Gopichand and Teresa Jolly are full of attacking verve and energy. They go hard at their opponents — Jolly attacking, Gayatri at the net, working in tandem. That is their Plan A.
But what do they do when this plan doesn’t work? What is their Plan B? In the semi-final of the All England Open Badminton Championships on Saturday, against the Korean pairing of Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee, the young Indians found out that they are still lacking in that department as they lost 21-10, 21-10 in 46 minutes.
Baek-Lee won in Germany last week and they were obviously feeling confident, and it showed in their play. This is a solid combination that never seems to be in a rush — they are defensively solid and they know it. In their previous match, they had rallies extending to over 100 shots but they just kept at it. So, the Indians knew what was coming their way, but on evidence of what we saw, matching this level is something that will take a little more time.
Patience is such a virtue on slow courts and in such conditions, being good defensively is a must. Right from the start it was clear how the Koreans were going to approach the match. They were not doing much in the front, and there was very little net play, but their lifts were solid and they trusted their defence.
It helped that they got off to a quick start as well. After just nine minutes of play, the Koreans were ahead 11-5. It was just solid play. They didn’t try too much while errors flowed off the racquets of the Indian duo, who were trying to attack as usual but when they saw it wasn’t working, the mistakes would follow.
It was still early days and there would be a chance to pull things back. For a while it looked like Gayatri and Jolly were doing exactly that. They made it 14-10 with Gayatri in particular looking like she was starting to get a good read on the opponents. They were also just holding back in the rallies a bit and being more patient.
But the Koreans upped the concentration and sped away from the Indians, making it 20-10. Ten game points and it had all come down to how the Koreans kept waiting for a loose shot and then pounced on it to finish the points.
Baek and Lee won the first game 21-10 in 20 minutes. Lee, at 28, the veteran on court, hardly put a foot wrong the entire game while Baek did all the right things as well.
As in the quarterfinals, Gayatri and Jolly needed to pick themselves up. But this time they simply weren’t given the opportunity. India’s doubles coach Mathias Boe would have tried to get them to execute things differently, but for the most part it looked like they were trying to come up with a counter on court. It wasn’t something they had done in practice and it is far harder for an inexperienced duo to change the pace on the court.
We see the greats do this all the time. They will tweak things tactically, change the pace, slow the game down, but the Indian pair is still far too raw to bring all of that. For now, they rely on skill. The other bits will come later.
Before Gayatri and Jolly knew it, they were 9-2 down. The rallies would look pretty even but all the errors were coming from the Indians, whose defence just wasn’t good enough. It was impetuosity of youth versus defence of the Koreans and one look at the scoreboard and you knew who was winning.
The mid-game break of the second game came around quickly enough and the Koreans were leading 11-2. The teams had spent just 31 minutes on court at this point but when things don’t go your way, it can feel like an eternity.
The match, thankfully, didn’t drag on as Baek-Lee finished things off cleanly. They won the second game 21-10 with little drama.
The Indians were clearly rattled but in professional sport, most players lose more than they win. However, it is how one reacts to these losses that makes the difference in the long run. Gayatri and Jolly can say it wasn’t their day. Or acknowledge that they just aren’t good enough yet. They fought but were outthought and outmaneuvered from a tactical point of view.
In the 46 minutes on court, the Koreans never needed to engage top gear. Cruise control was good enough as the Indians played into their hands tactically. This too is a learning experience which the women in red must cherish. The hard knocks in life sometimes stay with you longer than the easy wins. This is a reminder that there is more to be done, more hours to be spent on court, and this loss can be their driving force too.