The moment Satwiksairaj Rankireddy put the service return in the net to hand B Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri the senior national men’s doubles crown in Nagpur on Wednesday, the two broke into a wild celebration, even making their opponents and the umpires wait for the mandatory handshake after the match.
Attri ran out of the court to give a high-five to a fellow junior doubles player, while Reddy raced to hug another player and then broke into an impromptu jig in front of the stage where the dignitaries were sitting.
The euphoria and the wild celebrations looked a bit out of sync for a combination that has already won the title twice before, the first coming in their very first championship as a pair back in 2012.
But then, the world number 33 pair has been under tremendous pressure to turn things around and had to save six match points before a diving return from Reddy gave them a lucky break and a match point, as the shuttle hit the tape and fell on the other side.
“Everyone had started asking us when will you win,” said Reddy after the match. “It’s good to ask that question but I think we are a bit slow. We have had some results in smaller tournaments but the pressure was building because we were not doing well in Superseries.”
The pair hasn’t won a single round in the 11 Superseries events since the Rio Olympics and didn’t cross the first hurdle in 13 of the 18 events they have played in this year. Their only title came in the Lagos International Challenge in July and they could cross the second round on only two other occasions.
While adjusting to a new system took time for all players, Attri’s problems with the Badminton Association of India and knee injury also affected their overall performance. Though none of them are willing to talk about the matter and the BAI never made any official statement, there have always been discussions of disciplinary action against the Uttar Pradesh shuttler. He did not play a single match in the last edition of the Premier Badminton League. He then struggled with an injury as fluid had formed in his knee.
“Manu is very talented. He has very sensitive mindset. If something is troubling him he cannot play. So he was trying to forget what has happened and move on but it took a lot of time,” was all Reddy was willing to offer as an explanation.
The pair also took time to adjust to the new coaching system under Malaysian Tan Kim Her, who joined the Indian camp in December 2015.
“With a new coach coming, we began working on our toss and lift game, which doesn’t come naturally to us,” said Attri. “So when we came to the Nationals, I had only one mindset that we will play our natural game. We play flat and fast and we had beaten top players by playing our game,” he added, before pointing out that Rankireddy has a big smash and their game plan in the final had negated his weapon.
“We needed one victory and now I am confident things will change.”
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Tan Kim Her joined the Indian camp after the Rio Olympics. The error has been rectified.