Subhankar Dey walked off the court on Wednesday night with a giant smile following his upset 14-21 22-20 21-11 win over fourth seed and world no.9 Tommy Sugiarto at the India Open. His kit bag contained just a single functional racquet, the other four he owned lay at the bottom of his bag, torn strings rendering them useless for competition.
Subhankar kept his composure when the first string snapped early in the second game of his first round match. He completed the point, then walked over to his kitbag and pulled out a replacement and carried on. A few points later, it happened again and so he replaced that one as well and went on to win the game, pushing the match into a decider. Early in the third game, the process repeated once again and once more after that. At that point Subhankar only had one racquet left, so this time, Pullela Gopichand, who was sitting in his corner, got a couple of replacements from compatriot Ajay Jayaram.
Someone else might have felt the world was conspiring against him. Subhankar though looked on the bright side of things. “It wasn’t a bad thing to happen because each time the string broke at the start of the game. It could have happened during a crucial time. Luckily it happened early in the game,” he says.
Subhankar isn’t a stranger to losing racquets this way. “It’s happened to me once before at the Thailand Open (in January this year). After that match I went and bought another four racquets just to be on the safe side,” he says.
But bad luck with racquets isn’t the only thing the 25-year-old can stake a claim for. He’s also earning something of a reputation in punching far above his ranking – currently world number 44. He first laid claim to a status as a giant-killer when he beat two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan at the SaarLorLux Open in November last year. He followed that up with a win over Asian Games gold medallist Jonathan Christie at the Swiss Open last month.
Sugiarto, a former World bronze medallist, joined that list on Wednesday. Subhankar’s game isn’t the most technically flattering but he makes up for it with a massive heart, a never-say-die attitude and a seemingly endless gas tank that translates to a willingness to run every shuttle down.
Subhankar seemed down and out trailing 19-12 in the second game, before winning seven straight points to level. He then survived a match point before claiming the next three points to force a decider. By the third game, the Indonesian simply seemed to have run into a wall.
The intensity with which Subhankar plays is remarkable as is his ability to recover from the rigours he puts his body through. Quite simply though he has little choice in the matter. Subhankar is the ultimate journeyman in Indian badminton. He isn’t part of the national camp and as such doesn’t receive the funding to travel abroad and play. He isn’t staying at the official five-star hotel in New Delhi, but a much more modest lodging in Daryaganj. He doesn’t travel by the team bus, but rather hails an auto to get to the venue.
A travelling physio isn’t part of that deal, although Dey manages as best he can. “It’s impossible when I am playing abroad where there aren’t any Indians but it’s easier when they too are travelling. Here (at the India Open) some of the physios help me out so that is a big help,” he says.
One bonus he does get in competing at the India Open though is in the racquet stringing facilities available at the KD Jadhav stadium. Before heading to his hotel, Subhankar gives his four damaged racquets to the official stringer to be tightened once again. But the fact that he’s managed to pick up at least two wins with as many damaged racquets as he has, and with a tough match against higher ranked (WR 32) Wang Tzu Wei in the second round, allows him to joke about the entire situation.
“I haven’t done too badly with the string breaking on four of my racquets. Maybe I might just cut them with a scissors next time,” he smiles.