Hyderabad: Travelling nearly 100 kms a day (from Dilsukhnagar to Gachibowli and back) and four career-threatening knee surgeries did not deter Sikki Reddy to pursue her goals. All the hard work and perseverance has finally resulted in Commonwealth Games glory as she won gold and bronze (mixed team and women’s doubles) in Gold Coast, Australia.
Today she proudly holds her medals and says it is really a big achievement. “I always dreamt of winning medals for India in any big event and I’m happy that I could finally achieve it. I wanted to win gold in women’s doubles, but we had a tough contest in semifinals,’’ she said.
The 24-year-old left-hander attributes her success to her mentor and coach Pullela Gopichand, whose story was on the similar lines to that of Sikki. “Gopi sir has been real role model for me. He too suffered a career-threatening knee surgery but he fought back and won the All England title in 2001. He has been a big calming influence on my career. It was a very inspiring story for me. My second journey began with a self-belief, thanks to Gopi sir. He became my mentor, guide, coach and philosopher.’’
She continues by saying: It is a story of ups and downs. At the age of nine, I began playing badminton in summer camp before I took the game seriously in 2003 when I joined the Gopichand academy in Gachibowli. I had to travel 100 kms a day as we used to reside in Dilsukhnagar. It was a tough journey. But it was worthwhile and I could see tremendous progress in my game.’’
Sikki was a promising player in the singles and quite often she beat Saina Nehwal. “I was thinking, I was on the right path. I was dreaming big while playing singles and I had always had a good competition with Saina Nehwal. I lost to her in the Youth Commonwealth Games final. It was a close match and at that time she was world No.8.’’
But all dreams lay shattered when she twisted her left knee while playing a game. “My left knee got damaged as I had twisted my knee. I had surgery. I had ACL and other tears. I had knee surgeries four times. I was totally crestfallen. The doctors literally told me to stop playing and warned that I would get arthritis in future.’’
Though shaken, the gutsy Sikki was not to give up. “I was very determined and began to work vigorously on the court for long hours with a knee bracelet. I had endured lot of my pain. I cried, but I never gave up and gradually I got my confidence back.’’
Although she was back on the court for competitive games, her hopes in singles literally ended before Gopichand advised her to take up doubles. “On Gopi sir’s advice, I shifted my focus to doubles. I took it up as a challenge as the road from a singles player to doubles was a different cup of tea. I never imagined that I would be a doubles player. It took some time to learn the intricacies of doubles.’’
Sikki, who became a doubles player four years ago, had to struggle for partners in both women’s doubles and mixed events. “Doubles depends on your partners. I did struggle for the initial years as I could not get an ideal partner till I could get Ashwini Ponnappa and Pranaav Jerry Chopra. Ashwini is an experienced player. We can learn a lot from her. I regret that I wasted nearly two years before I could get Ashwini as a partner. Ever since I began to partner with Ashwini since 18 months, my game has improved and we have jelled into a formidable pair.’’
Sikki also said having the Malaysian doubles coach Tim Tak Her was a big turning point in Indian badminton. “Tim Tak Her has totally changed my game which was hitherto more singles oriented. He has brought up lot of changes in the game. His double expertise mixed doubles tactics makes a huge difference.’’
Sikki said they are in top 20 in women’s doubles. “We have to consistently do well to be in top ten. Doubles players in all big countries are doing very well. What we lack is that we don’t have good women’s doubles players in the country. We have to practice with the boys. Playing with boys and not girls is totally different.
In women’s badminton, there are long rallies unlike the men’s where the game is faster,’’ said Sikki, who is focusing in Uber Cup and Asian Games. “Asian Games is tougher than Commonwealth Games. We need to pull off upsets and main challenge will come from China, Japan, Indonesia and Korea. We have to keep the shuttles on the court,” she said.