India’s Trisa Jolie and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela were beaten 21-10, 21-10 by Korea’s Bak Na Ha and Lee So Hee in the All England semi-finals on Saturday. The Korean doubles pair gave the young Indians a defensive masterclass for 45 long minutes as they were frustrated into making mistakes in prolonged rallies and their attacking instincts were blunted by the Korean rehearsals.
The experienced So Hee and Ha Na began to push the Indians into the backcourt and built comfortable leads of 6-1 in the first game and 11-2 in the second game, reducing their attacking flair that had caught the eye in their last three wins.
Perfect long lifts from the Koreans would pin the Indians to the backcourt and, lacking any length to hit or maneuver the points, they would dive into a flurry of errors to give away points in bunches. Coach Matthias Boe would urge them to trust their defense before finding the right moments to counter, but the Koreans are highly rated for a reason. Having been starved of their usual dominant leadership, the Indians’ body language dropped and the Koreans found it easier to defend and relax, waiting for the inevitable mistakes.
There was very little foul play from the Koreans themselves, but most of their 8- and 7-point shots in each game came from mistakes by the Indians. After playing 70- and 90-minute matches earlier, the semi-final proved quite easy for the now strong All England contenders as So Hee also avenged their defeat to the Indian combination in last year’s edition.
There were lessons to be learned from Treesa and Gayatri about following Plan B if their initial plan of blitzing opponents with a flat game didn’t work. It had worked against some big names, like the Japanese, but it wasn’t necessarily going to do it against all comers. The experienced Koreans showed how the Indians can be countered.
However, there was a silver lining to the defeat – reaching the semi-finals for the second time in a row proved that last year was more than just a fluke. Three wins against players who were ranked in the Top 10 showed that there is once again an Indian resurgence in women’s doubles, this time in a Tour event like the All England.
Triza is not yet 20, and Gayatri has barely turned one. But their three wins were uneventful outings, and while they were beaten by the Koreans, the Indians were not crushed, although the difference might seem that way.
They played the week in Birmingham with speed and power from front and back, and the thriller against the Chinese pair in the quarter-final even had them giddy with excitement, suspecting they may have been carried away. Defensive rally is a style of play, but they will have to learn to negotiate, as the best pairs can get stuck in them by doing nothing more than returning each shuttle. Seven of the top 10 pairings will likely be solid defensively, and the Indians will need to find a way past those pick-and-roll walls.
What was also called upon was their own defence, though it was more about impatience after not being allowed the freedom to attack. This led to some harakiri moments. However, there was confirmation that work was needed on both the calm and the alternative plans.
Still, it’s been a good two months for the youngsters, with wins in the Asian mixed team competition, then winning the national title, followed by an All-England run to the semi-finals. However, success will be measured by the number of titles the pair can win, not the rankings. And how deep they go in big tournaments like the world championships.
With a season packed with the Sudirman Cup, Asian Games and Worlds, plus the Olympic qualification race, the duo will be busy even as they look to capitalize on that form. They lose no ranking points by reaching the semi-finals, and the experience gains are much greater.