At their first All England in 2022, they carried a wide-eyed excitability as they unexpectedly crossed one hurdle after another to make the semifinals. This year, even as they repeated that semifinal feat, they were more assured, more confident that they belonged in that league.
While the Indian duo had an uneven year in the period between the two All Englands, their performances in Birmingham showed that, while in the zone, they can pretty much hold their own against most top opponents. At this year’s All England, they beat Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai, Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota and Li Wen Mei/Liu Xuan Xuan before falling to Baek Ha Na/Lee So Hee. Particularly noticeable was the fizz of Jolly’s attack, aided by Pullela’s assured front court game.
Among the significant results over the last year were semifinal finishes at the Commonwealth Games and the HYLO Open. With wins over pairs like Lee/Shin Seung Chan, Benyapa Aimsaard/Nuntakarn Aimsaard and Pearly Tan/Thinaah Muralitharan, apart from Kititharakul/Prajongjai and Fukushima/Hirota, the 19/20-year-olds have done enough to suggest they could be a fixture among the world’s best for a while to come.
These performances have led to a noticeable uptick in their confidence on and off court, which was apparent after their quarterfinals in Birmingham, when Pullela declared: “We are going for the title.”
“There’s no pressure. You have to go out there and have fun. Last year we came in here just to give our best. This time we want to win. We’ve come this far, so we just want the title.
“We are confident that we are as good as any of the top pairs. Definitely.”
Her partner, whose rasping smashes caught everyone’s attention, compared their two campaigns at the All England a year apart: “Last time the excitement was high. We hadn’t even qualified, we were in the reserves list. We wanted to play the All England at least once. But this time we obviously we knew we’d get an entry for this tournament, we’d prepared well. Last year we just couldn’t sleep as we were so excited. But this time feels normal.”
For the immediate future, their abilities bode well for India’s campaign at the upcoming TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2023, the World Mixed Team Championships at which India have never medalled. Jolly and Pullela’s value to the team was apparent at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships 2023 in February, where they won all four of their matches – including against Malaysia’s Tan/Muralitharan in the group stage and China’s Liu Sheng Shu/Tan Ning in the semifinals.
Jolly and Pullela’s emergence has meant that India can now depend on strong challengers in at least four of five categories. The Indians are in Group C with Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and Australia – the trickiest of the four groups to predict. Yet, if Jolly and Pullela’s form holds, that lends the Indians an edge given their strength in men’s singles, women’s singles and men’s doubles.
Follow our coverage of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2023 here.