The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
It was almost the perfect doubles victory. Treesa Jolly dipping into her sack of delightful tricks from all around the court, and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela matching her with smooth set-ups and kills at the net as Li Wen Mei and Liu Xuan Xuan of China were downed 21-14, 18-21, 21-12 in the quarterfinals of the All England Badminton Championships.It meant the young Indian pairing – both barely 20 – made their second straight semifinals at Birmingham, and the manner of their three wins – good leads to start and strong nerveless finishing – proves they can go deeper into the tough draw and even finish as champions.In all the three matches they have played, the Indians have looked in complete control, like they belonged in the Top-5 bracket of women’s doubles.2️⃣nd consecutive semifinal for our very own ‘Thunder Women ⚡️’ Go for 🥇 girls!📸: @badmintonphoto #AllEngland2023#IndiaontheRise#Badminton pic.twitter.com/LeYb61YCQi— BAI Media (@BAI_Media) March 17, 2023Impeccable with their gameplans drawn up by Mathias Boe, the Indians stuck to the broader contours – short, snappy rallies, flat exchanges with down-strokes, and equal emphasis on power, pace and placement. Early leads were crucial like statements of intent and helped putting pressure when closing out – from 11-8 to 17-2 in the first and from 11-5 to 17-9 in the decider. The middle game – the first they dropped this week – saw the Chinese upping the ante and denying them the flat game. It was remarkable, though, how the Indians responded in the decider and left their assertive stamp on the third game.The Chinese pairing is a fresh one, though they’ve been as high as World No. 9 with other partners. Moulded in the aggressive Chinese style, they were expected to counter in the second. What wasn’t expected was how clueless they would be rendered in defending against the Indian flat-out attack.While the flat, straight-down smashes are her staple, there are two Treesa Jolly characteristic strokes that prove effective every time. One is when she goes for the lines – using her wrist to flick, lift, scoop and nudge the shuttle to the borders – mostly the tramlines but also the backline, like at 9-7 in the opener. Her placements to the far court boggled the Chinese from the outset, as they were denied rhythm in defending as well, knowing not where the shuttle might be headed.The other is an exquisite drop, disguised within a frenetic rally, where suddenly with the opponents pinned to the pendulum and lulled into a fast pace, the shuttle falls short, like at 5-1 in the decider – again something that left the Chinese bewildered about where to defend next.The aftershocks of it helped India run up a 10-2 lead in the decider, from where they were unlikely to lose.Unique abilityThe potency of the flat attack also lay in what is perhaps Treesa’s greatest skill: when hitting from round the head, and any parallel shot for that matter, she has the capability to send the shuttle inches above the net chord, an awkward height for opponents to lift or hit down. It helps her to wrap up any rally in the first four strokes, against anyone. It is the mastery over shuttle length and height in her returns that is part of her immense talent.Say hello to our first #YAE23 semi-finalists 👋Jolly/Pullela beat Li/Liu 21-14 18-21 21-12! 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/D9hAM4bBlX— 🏆 Yonex All England Badminton Championships 🏆 (@YonexAllEngland) March 17, 2023What also happened on Friday, was Gayatri bringing her A-Game to the court – a nearly error-free outing, where she at times out-stroked Treesa from the back. There is peril in relegating her role to just the net, for Gayatri is much more than that.On display on the day among her backcourt variations were two down-the-line smashes going after Liu’s backhand. There was also the backhand straight-racquet push to the forecourt at 15-8 in the decider.It was the stray loose lifts, when the Indians were dragged away from their flat game in the second, that would lead to the mid-game reversal, as the Chinese got a word in, and attacked with aplomb. However the Indian response to being forced into a decider was sensational, as they took a 11-4 lead and pranced around with clockwork rotations – both Treesa and Gayatri chipping in with interceptions at the net to take the match.Koreans nextTreesa-Gayatri next play Koreans World No. 20 Baek Ha Na – Lee So He, who have taken out the second and eighth seeds on way to the semis. The Indians are familiar with net lynchpin Lee, whom they had beaten last year at the All England when she paired with Shin Seungchuan, but have never run into this freshly-assembled pairing when playing together.The Koreans have accounted for Japanese Shida-Matsuyama and Indonesians Rahayu-Ramadhanti, showing they are in fine touch. It will be interesting to see if the Indians can sustain and impose their flat game on the Koreans, who are defensively very strong. Baek has jump-smashes from the back, and Lee, a net legend and All England champ, steers the combine from the net where Gayatri can expect some eyeball confrontations. Indian pace and placement, though, might prove handy against the hugely experienced Lee.