Persistence pays off for calm Diju

Persistence pays off for calm Diju

Valiyaveetil Diju is the calm face of Indian badminton. Saina Nehwal might be making waves on the court; Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa might add the glamour quotient but for quiet efficiency, one doesn't have to look beyond this 31-year-old.

Come next week, Diju will hope to take the same calmness to the Wembley Arena in London, when he lines up to take on the world's best alongside his mixed doubles partner Jwala. It's Olympics time and India's top pair is among the 16 that will vie for a piece of the coveted silverware but for Diju, it isn't just a dream-come-true moment.

Not too long ago, there was a time when clouds of doubt hovered over his future on the court. A back problem and subsequent surgery had pushed him out of the scene. The journey back was arduous but Diju fought on and as he is poised to become a part of the first Indian mixed doubles team to play in the Olympics, he would like to believe that it is his reward for that persistence.

“It started as a back pain but I played on. There came a point when surgery became inevitable. Finally, in April 2011, I underwent surgery that put me out of the game for five months,” says Diju, ahead of the final lap of preparations for the Olympics. “Those were tough days, it was very painful. And as the rehabilitation started, the stiffness persisted on my back and I was worried about my future in the sport,” he says.

Returning to the court was only one part of the problem for Diju. He and Jwala had forged a successful partnership after they came together for the first time in 2008, even reaching a career high ranking of six in the world. Victory in the Chinese Taipei Open in 2009 and a runners-up finish in the Super Series Masters highlighted their journey but when Diju finally made his way back after surgery, their ranking had slipped to 85.

“The comeback was a long journey as invariably we would draw tough opponents early in a tournament. But slowly we regained our foothold and started moving up the rungs.'' Their entry into the second round of the World Championships and the semifinals of the China Super Series helped them improve their ranking and finally, their place in London was sealed after the Indian Open in New Delhi back in April.

The quiet Diju and the outspoken Jwala are a study in contrasts.  While Diju enjoys watching movies on his phone in his spare time, his Hyderabadi partner is a firm believer in the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara philosophy. “She is an aggressive and fearless player. Plus the fact that ours is a left-right combination makes it difficult for our opponents,” says the right-hander from Kerala.

Training hard under Indonesian coach Edwin Irawan, Diju says he is hoping for a good draw in London.

“Now, we are ranked 13 in the world but the draw will be based on our May rankings, when we were 14. It's 16-team draw and it all depends on the day's form. China and Denmark have tough teams but with some luck, we can do well,” says Diju, who is employed with the Oil and Natural Gas Commission as a Senior Human Resources Officer.

Win or lose, London won't be the last stop for Diju. Past the Games, life will take a new turn for him with his marriage to Soumya, a doctor, set for September 16 back home in Kerala. “I plan to continue for a few more years but first, it is London on my mind,” says Diju. “It will be an exciting and proud moment to play in the Olympic Games.”

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