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Sport - Badminton Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Life with new partners

By Stan Rayan

KOCHI, JAN. 11. Just three years ago, they were among the world's best pairs. With a world ranking of 15 in mid-March 2002, doubles stars Sanave Thomas and V. Diju appeared ready to embark on another exciting journey. For just a week earlier, Pullela Gopichand had risen to a heady world No. 4 in men's singles.

Today, Sanave and Diju are no longer a pair. The two, among the best men's doubles teams the country has ever produced, were separated by Indonesian coach Hadi Sugianto at the Indian camp a few months ago in Bangalore.

Sacrilege! Shocking!

Well, these were some of the reactions in badminton circles when word slowly broke out about the break-up. But doubles badminton, being a world without Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, they did not make headlines.

Naturally, the two Kerala stars were upset with the coach's move. "We even told Hadi that we had been playing together for six years," said Sanave, the Kochi-based Central Excise Inspector.

In the new order, Sanave was paired with Rupesh Kumar, the current senior National doubles champion (with Markose Bristow), while Diju was made to combine with the seasoned international Jaseel Ismail. Meanwhile, Petroleum Board's Markose who missed the year-long national camp owing to family commitments, teamed up with his younger brother Jaison Xavier while Jose George (Ajit Wijetilak of Karnataka) was put up with Railway's Mitesh Hazarnis.

But when Sanave lost three major finals, including the Hyderabad Asian Satellite tournament, to the tall Jaseel-Diju duo, he was clearly upset.

"I found my confidence going down. I was a bit depressed too," said Sanave. "But Rupesh kept saying that we would click," he said.

Flurry of titles

They did click a few weeks later. And when success came, it flowed thick and fast. Their first big title came in an international meet. Sanave and the ONGC Officer Rupesh won the Toulouse Open in France in the last week of November and then bagged the J.R.D. Tata Open (Jamshedpur), the Gandhidham Major and the Syed Modi tournament (Lucknow), India's richest tournament which went international in December.

"I regained my confidence with the Toulouse victory," said Sanave.

He is now savouring the joys of the new pairing. Certainly life with his new partner is now on a happy highway. "Rupesh, like Diju, is good from the front and very confident at the net. And he is much better than Diju at creating openings. Diju, however, is one of the best servers in the national circuit and often he can be a good finisher too," says Sanave, who has produced some stunning results at the All-England and the Thomas Cup.

Sanave is a strong attacker from the rear and his jumping smashes are a treat to watch. Sanave and Rupesh, both 25, now plan to work on their world ranking, which has improved from 150 to 76 in the new list. Meanwhile, Jaseel, a five-time senior National champion with George Thomas, Vijaydeep Singh and Vincent Lobo, and the 24-year-old Diju are around the 100 mark.

One thought that doubles partners mature with time. That the more they play together, the better they jell. "But in Indonesia, they change partners frequently. When players decipher the tricks and master a strong pair, coaches change partners to introduce an element of surprise all over again. This could be Indonesian coach Hadi's strategy," said Markose, a two-time senior National doubles champion.

For some time now, Prakash Padukone and Gopichand have been talking about the stagnation which has set in Indian badminton. They are sad that the youngsters are no longer pushing the seniors these days.

Hadi's new strategy could just lift the gloom of complacency.

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