It is not uncommon for Tanisha Crasto and Ishaan Bhatnagar to squabble plenty on court. “Kyu aayaa tu? Mera shuttle hai.” (Why did you go for that return? It was my shuttle to hit.) has rung across playing arenas through the European winter swing of tournaments and now in India – Delhi and Lucknow. But the duo, she – 18 and he – 19, eventually settle into a frenzied pace, and have now secured their first Super 300 mixed doubles badminton title at the Syed Modi International on Sunday.
Beating Hema Nagendra Babu and Srivedya Gurazada 21-16, 21-12 in a severely depleted field, the Crasto-Bhatnagar pairing, follow in the footsteps of Jwala Gutta-V Diju and Ashwini Ponappa-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who have played immensely entertaining badminton on way to victories. “I think after this title, we are capable of great heights, though there’s scope to do much better. We’d like to create our own history,” Tanisha says.
When the Badminton Association of India announced six years ago that the U17 nationals would have its first-ever mixed doubles competition, the two paired up together – both say “randomly.”
“Everyone was searching for partners, so I messaged her,” Ishaan from Raipur, recalls. “I’d just started on the Indian circuit and really liked his game. He was all over the news winning both singles and doubles, so I randomly asked him. Then we won the first ever tournament,” Tanisha, born and raised in Dubai, remembers. Both followed their fathers onto the court – Ishaan’s father played at a local club while Tanisha’s dad switched from cricket to badminton. They would eventually wind up in Hyderabad at the national camp.
“It was the toughest adjustment for me. In Dubai, hardly any female players used to practise then, so I would train alone. In India, there’s a good crop of sparring partners,” Tanisha says, adding she misses her mother’s home-cooked fish fry in Hyderabad, vastly different from the academy’s mess kitchens.
On court, Tanisha is a fighter. “She’s a great motivator. Even if we are 10 points behind, she’ll say ‘kuch nahi hai’ (it’s nothing) and convince me we can win. I play better when I’m calm, and her confidence rubs off,” Ishaan says. The chatter is often as bustling as the energy she brings to her hop-skip defence at the net. “Sometimes she has some logic, and I have mine, and it doesn’t work together. Then we go blank,” Ishaan explains of their chaotic communication, which somehow still works.
“I think he covers for my mistakes really well,” Tanisha says, and reckons the coordination developed after six years together is their strength. They both agree that Ishaan can get angry, though he insists, “Sometimes she doesn’t listen to me and makes a mistake the very next point.”
Playing for each other
Ishaan is skilled and aggressive from the back court, though he admits he ought to gain power and hit smashes harder. “At the international level, I’ll need more muscle strength.” But it’s mostly him setting up the kill for Tanisha to finish at the net.
At the Scottish and Welsh Opens last autumn, England’s Jessica Pugh really got stuck into Ishaan – peppering him ceaselessly – and he needed Tanisha to protect him. “I used to think bas ladke hi tez maarte hai (only boys smash hard). But Pugh attacked me so much, and the intensity was high in every point. We lost both times, but it was a good lesson. But Tanisha is getting better at the net, and I’ll work hard to create chances for her,” says the fan of Japanese doubles star Yuta Watanabe.
The English style is to defend stoutly with their side-by-side game, while the Indians follow the Asian quick blitzes. With every shuttle getting lifted from mid-court these days, the Indians work on outlasting opponents. “You need to be very calm in defence and make opponents run,” Ishaan says.
On Sunday, he would rush to thank Satwiksairaj post winning, saying, “He had told me once that I’ll do well in mixed doubles and be the next star. I want to thank him for believing in me.”
Tanisha has told her doubles partner that she enjoys mixed doubles more and will likely prioritise that should results align with expectations. “I’ve been competitive ever since I’ve known any game. So, the fighting spirit is just there,” says the ace who’s a livewire chasing down shuttles.
She knows she has a long way to go. “Right now, I’m just a normal player trying to get better at the net,” she admits, adding she owes it to Ishaan to finish the kills that he sets up. “Off court, we are complete opposites. Fire and water. He’s mostly alright, but maybe he should eat right,” she quibbles.
Across the court, she revels in attacking the male opponent. “Mostly in trying to cover for the woman, they make mistakes of their own. So I play to him, which works to my advantage,” she muses. All in a day’s squabble and work.