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Second time is a charm

Put them in a spot and see how they react. Every coach worth his salt will tell you that there are a lot of talented players around but the ones that rise to the top are those who fight when the chips are down, who hold their nerve when things aren’t going their way and who bounce back from setbacks.

India’s Treesa Jolly with Gayatri Gopichand Pullela, right, in action against China’s Li Wen Mei and Liu Xuan Xuan during day four of the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships at the Utilita Arena Birmingham, England, Friday March 17, 2023. (Zac Goodwin/PA via AP)(AP)

The Indian pair of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand reached their second successive semi-final at the All England Open Badminton Championships by beating China’s 52nd-ranked pair of Li Wen Mei and Liu Xuan Xuan in three games 21-14, 18-21, 21-12 in a match that stretched just over an hour.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Gayatri after the win. “I have no words.”

The semi-final spot was “a dream come true” for Treesa but it wasn’t smooth sailing all the way. It was a match that demanded the players dig deep to emerge victorious. The world No 17 Indian pair had won the first game and were ahead 10-6 in the second.

It was all going according to plan but at this point, the Chinese pair upped their game to first catch up and then overtake the Indian combo to force the decider.

So much of sport can be about momentum. And from being in a great position, the young Indian pair (Treesa is 19 and Gayatri 20) had seen their advantage being withered away. Mentally, it would have been a blow but it is in these moments that their maturity and fighting spirit shone through.

The Chinese pair had been much more proactive and their movement had become much sharper as well. If they had continued in the same vein, things would have got difficult for the Gayatri-Treesa combine.

It was clear that the Indians needed to respond well in the third game after the setback in the second and they did exactly that. With Gayatri pouncing on everything at the net, the Indian team made a good start in the decider. They took six points in a row to make it 8-1, an advantage that they didn’t let slip.

At the mid-game break in the decider, they were ahead 11-4. Their fightback was fueled by some very smart badminton as they kept forcing Li and Liu to lift and then took full advantage of anything short.

But a change of sides can often change things drastically and they needed to stay focussed to close things out. The Chinese duo found a better rhythm after the break to make it 14-8 but Gayatri’s net play came to India’s rescue whenever they were in a spot of bother.

Each time they were under pressure, coach Mathias Boe, who has been in their corner all tournament, just kept telling them to “embrace it, enjoy it”. It was good advice that clearly wasn’t lost on them.

Treesa wasn’t just standing around either. She usually grabs your attention with her big smashes but just as impressive, on Friday, were her well-disguised drop shots. She fooled the Chinese players multiple times and if she can keep this up, it will also serve to make her smashes more potent.

At 20-12, they earned themselves eight match points and they needed just one to make it to their second successive semi-final appearance at the All England.

“It was a tough match definitely,” said Gayatri in the mixed zone. “In the second game we were leading but then they caught up and it happens. In the third game we were 11-4 up and we wanted to keep that lead. It was a good match.”

If their run into the last-four stage last year was dismissed by some due to the weakened field, their performance this year only proves that the showing was anything but a flash in the pan. Gayatri and Treesa are here to stay, and you better believe it because they clearly do.

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