Four years ago, when the then 12-year-old Taarini Suri of Mumbai and Shravani Walekar of Nasik competed in a state-level tournament, their coaches decided to pair the youngsters together in girls’ doubles matches. On Thursday, the pair of Suri/Walekar won their girls’ doubles second qualification round match 21-15, 21-3 against the pair of Bhakti and Ditya Jakhar of Haryana. They moved into the main draw of the Yonex Sunrise 30th Smt Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking prize money tournament being organised by Express Shuttle Club Trust at Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex.
Post that, the Maharashtra pair headed to the practice area to listen to their favourite music tracks.
“We had not thought about competing in the doubles event before our coaches met and decided to pair us together seeing each one’s respective strengths,” says Walekar while speaking with The Indian Express. “Since then, it’s all about our camaraderie on and off the court and it has worked for us. While I play singles too mostly on the domestic tour, we have been pairing up for doubles and have been winning on the U15 as well as U17 level. Competing at the U-19 level gives us a lot of confidence and that’s why we are here.”
While Walekar comes from a family of doctors, Suri was born to a banker in Mumbai. Walekar started playing the sport on the insistence of her father and Suri would learn the sport seeing her parents play badminton at the housing society in Mumbai. In their first year of pairing in 2019, the pair reached the U-13 final in one All India Junior Ranking tournament apart from reaching semi-final in another All India tourney.
They would also become the U-13 Maharashtra champions the same year and then won the U15 and U-17 state titles. The last three years have seen the pair reaching the U17 quarters in the Junior Nationals last year apart from reaching the final in the U17 semifinals in the Junior ranking tourney in Goa the same year as well as three final appearances in All India Junior Ranking tournaments this year.
“While I train at CCI, Mumbai, Shravani trains at Nasik and Bengaluru and whenever we compete in a tournament, we make sure that we book our tickets to stay in the city for 2-3 days more. It gives us much needed time to train together. While my game is about hitting the shuttle hard, Shravani’s game is all about placement,” says Suri.
While Walekar has been doing well on the U-17 and U-19 singles’ ranking tournaments too, Suri’s focus has been mostly on doubles. The Mumbai youngster had paired up with England’s Dillon Chong to reach the mixed doubles final in the All England Junior Championships this year apart from winning the title along with Chong in the Valamar Open in Croatia this year.
“Reaching the All England Junior mixed doubles final apart from winning the title in Croatia made me believe harder to put all my focus on doubles. There is a different mindset for the doubles and the more we play together, it will benefit us,” says Suri.
Former Asian Games bronze medallist Hufrish Nariman, who coaches Suri, believes that the sooner and more the pair trains, the better they will get. “Things have changed post Ashwini/Jwala winning and now with Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy winning big on the international circuit. It’s all about recognising the players and then getting their mindset first to think like a doubles player solely. Taarini understands this fully and Sharavani surely will make a decision soon. We have to find a way to make them train together for most part of the year,” said Nariman.
Fans of Rankireddy/Shetty, the Suri-Walekar duo also make Instagram reels while dancing. “That’s one thing which binds us off the court as well,” says Walekar before signing off.